DA Vance: Marijuana Prosecutions Down 94% in First Quarter of New Policy

November 1, 2018

“Decline-To-Prosecute” Policy Became Effective August 1

D.A. Renews Call on New York State to “Legalize, Regulate, Expunge”

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., today released statistics pertaining to the first 90 days of the Office’s new policy to decline to prosecute marijuana possession and smoking cases. Already, the policy has drastically reduced Manhattan marijuana prosecutions, resulting in a 94% decrease in marijuana arraignments in October compared to the previous year. Additionally, the D.A.’s policy, taken together with a New York City Police Department policy which became effective on September 1, has resulted as a 96% reduction in Manhattan marijuana arrests.

“The Manhattan D.A.’s Office has exited the marijuana business,” said District Attorney Vance. “Now it’s time for New York State to legalize, regulate, and expunge. District Attorneys in Brooklyn, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Manhattan have shown that prosecutors can safely exercise their discretion and eliminate the needless collateral consequences associated with the criminalization of marijuana. But this shouldn’t be up to District Attorneys alone – only our legislature can do justice for all 62 counties in New York State.”

3-Month Statistics

The  D.A.’s “decline-to-prosecute” policy was announced on May 15, 2018, and became effective on August 1, 2018. Between August 1 and October 31:

  • “Cases screened” in Manhattan, a metric which correlates with police arrests, have declined 96% year-over-year. In October 2017, the D.A.’s Office screened 540 cases. In October 2018, the Office screened just 21 cases.
  • Arraignments in Manhattan have declined 94% year-over-year. In October 2017, the Office arraigned 465 cases. In October 2018, the Office arraigned 28 cases. These arraignments included cases screened prior to August 1.
  • Of the 168 cases arraigned during this period: 124 were dismissed at arraignment, 21 were resolved with adjournments in contemplation of dismissal at arraignment, and 22 are being prosecuted under one of the two limited exceptions to the policy, as described below.
  • The D.A.’s “decline-to-prosecute” policy includes two limited exceptions: (1) cases against sellers, and (2) cases where the defendant is otherwise a demonstrated public safety threat. As noted above, only 22 cases fell within these exceptions.

The full statistics are available here.

Proactively Dismissing Marijuana Cases Dating Back to 1978

In September, D.A. Vance personally appeared in Criminal Court and successfully moved to dismiss virtually every open marijuana case pending in Manhattan – some 3,042 bench warrants for marijuana smoking and possession. The motions, which were entered jointly with the New York County Defender Services and Neighborhood Defender Services of Harlem, were granted by Supervising Judge Kevin McGrath. Notably, of the defendants whose cases were dismissed, 79% are New Yorkers of color, and 46% were 25 years of age or younger at the time of their arrest.

In addition to calling upon New York lawmakers to legalize and regulate marijuana possession and smoking, D.A. Vance is asking lawmakers to amend state criminal procedure laws to enable the mass expungement of previously obtained marijuana convictions, and has been working with public defense organizations and criminal justice stakeholders to proactively seal past marijuana convictions en masseunder New York’s civil sealing provision.

Marijuana, Fairness and Public Safety: A Report on the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana in the United States

The D.A.’s decline-to-prosecute policy was informed by six months of research and policy analysis, including extensive, in-person interviews with law enforcement officials in jurisdictions where marijuana is no longer criminally prosecuted. In May 2018, the D.A.’s Office released a report publicizing its findings, which is available here.