Have a decade old — or longer — warrant in New York City? District Attorneys for all five boroughs may have just given you a get-out-of-jail-free card.
In August, Manhattan DA, Cyrus Vance, Jr., sought the dismissal of over a half-million warrants.
For decades, intrusive charges for trivial “crimes” like pedaling a bicycle on a footpath, or boozing in public was a keystone for policing in The Big Apple. One of the enduring consequences of that over-zealous enforcement is now a major policy dilemma.
In a sweeping change to past police practices, minor charges dating back at least ten years will be dropped in an organized push by New York prosecutors. The lasting consequences of an era’s thinking are coming to an end.
The district solicitors for four of New York’s Boroughs wiped out 645,000 warrants in an attempt to decrease the amount of people walking through the revolving door of justice for offenses that would now deserve no more than a fine or neighborhood service.
In the face of a federal lawsuit, NYPD has dialed back its habit of holding and frisking persons in high-crime areas. The result is a reduction in the number of individuals indicted on trivial marijuana charges. In 2016, New York’s City Council drafted and passed a law which created civil tickets for offenses which used to lead to a criminal summons.
“New Yorkers with a ten-year old warrant face needless unemployment risk, and housing consequences,” Vance told Criminal Court Judge Tamilo Amaker. “As they fear detention for an old violation, they don’t cooperate with police.”
Amaker agreed to Vance’s motion and dismissed the cases.
“The persons who hold these warrants have not been in difficulty with law enforcement for over ten-years,” said Darcel Clark, the Bronx District Attorney. “As a result, I move to vacate and dismiss these matters.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio supported the mass dismissal and told reporters that old outstanding warrants “derail lives, disrupt families and can cause job loss.”
The warrant amnesty is expected to be a boon for undocumented immigrants who face a greater risk of deportation under Trump. The dropping of the warrants is “very meaningful regarding immigration,” said Muzaffar Chishti, director of Migration Policy Institute at the NYU School of Law.
Arresting people on summons warrants has not been a high priority for NYPD, but the warrants can trigger an arrest of a person is stopped for another reason.
Currently, there is no process in place to notify persons whose warrants were cleared. It is suspected to take three weeks for assistants to manage the dismissals and tell law enforcement said a spokesperson for the court.
Vance said the district attorneys had balanced concerns for public safety with leniency and noted exceptions were made for those with felony warrants and anyone under investigation for other crimes.
The dismissed warrants were for people who had not had a brush with the law since 2007. “This is a group I believe we can take a risk on,” Vance said.