District Attorney Vance Dismisses 3,000 Marijuana Cases Dating Back to 1978


September 12, 2018

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Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., today appeared in court and moved to dismiss 3,042 marijuana smoking and possession cases, thereby preventing unnecessary future contacts with the criminal justice system, eliminating the collateral consequences associated with having an open marijuana case, and empowering New Yorkers to interact with law enforcement without fear of arrest or deportation.

“By vacating these warrants, we are preventing unnecessary future interactions with the criminal justice system, and removing all of the collateral consequences – for one’s job prospects, school attendance, housing applications, and immigration status – associated with an open Criminal Court case,” said District Attorney Vance in Manhattan Criminal Court. “And in so doing, we’re taking one small step toward addressing the decades of racial disparities behind the enforcement of marijuana in New York City.”

The D.A.’s Office identified all cases available in its records dating back to 1978, wherein the only remaining charge was marijuana possession or smoking under PL 221.10(1), a class B misdemeanor, or PL 221.05, a violation. District Attorney Vance today appeared before Supervising Judge Kevin McGrath and made motions (1) to vacate the 3,042 bench warrants en masse, and (2) to dismiss the 3,042 underlying misdemeanor and violation cases in the interest of justice. Carolyn Wilson of New York County Defender Services and Seth Steed of Neighborhood Defender Services of Harlem joined D.A. Vance in the motions.

Of the defendants whose cases were dismissed, 79% are New Yorkers of color. 46% were 25 years of age or younger at the time of their arrest.

In moving to dismiss the cases, District Attorney Vance stated the following in court:

As Your Honor knows, we stand here today to address the more than 3,000 open Criminal Court bench warrants for cases my Office no longer prosecutes: marijuana possession and smoking, under Penal Laws 221.10(1), a class B misdemeanor, or PL 221.05, a violation.

It is our experience that outstanding warrants for these low-level cases drive law enforcement and our communities apart: New Yorkers with warrants face unnecessary loss of employment, housing, and immigration consequences, and because they fear that they will be arrested for an open warrant, they sometimes are reluctant to collaborate with the NYPD and District Attorneys. That undermines public safety.

By vacating these warrants, we are preventing unnecessary future interactions with the criminal justice system.

By dismissing these cases, we’re removing all of the adverse collateral consequences – for one’s job prospects, school attendance, housing applications, and immigration status – associated with an open Criminal Court case.

And in so doing, we’re taking one small step toward addressing the decades of racial disparities behind the enforcement of marijuana in New York City.

Because marijuana enforcement has been disproportionately applied to communities of color, it will come as no surprise that a full 80 percent of these cases are for people of color. Nor will it shock you that nearly half of those charged were less than 25-years-old at the time of their arrest.

But it is not only the right thing to do – it’s commonsense. As of August 1st, my Office no longer prosecutes marijuana possession and smoking cases, unless there is indicia of sale or a demonstrated public safety risk.

If anyone was brought in on one of these warrants, my Office would dismiss the case. So dismissing these cases proactively is a matter of judicial economy, which preserves court and prosecutorial resources to focus on more serious crimes.

Those are the reasons why my Office has advocated for the statutory decriminalization of marijuana and for today’s en masse dismissal of marijuana cases, and continues to work diligently with our partners at the New York State Office of Court Administration and the public defenders that stand here today to carry this proposal over the finish line.

Thus, given that we have 3,042 marijuana misdemeanor and violation bench warrants pending in this court dating back to 1978, and that prosecuting any of these cases would benefit not public safety, the People move to vacate the bench warrants for calendar numbers 1 to 3,042. and move to dismiss these cases in the interest of justice.

Thank you, Your Honor.