Changing Pot Prosecutions

Brooklyn DA Won’t Pursue Low-Level Cases

The Kings County District Attorney announced last Tuesday, July 8, he will no longer prosecute first-time marijuana arrest cases for low-level offenders, claiming the office must make better use of limited law enforcement resources.

Under most circumstances– provided the defendant has no prior arrests or criminal convictions, or a minor record and they have given police a verifiable name and address–DA Kenneth P. Thompson will no longer prosecute those offenders, he said in a statement.

The goal of this policy change is twofold; to slash the amount of minor possession cases that come before judges, more than two-thirds of which are dismissed, and prevent offenders from entering the criminal justice system on a low-level charge, Thompson said. Additionally, it’s aimed at not saddling offenders, many of whom are young men of color, to jail sentences for minor possession charges.

This effort will reduce the amounts of individuals given a “criminal record for a minor, non-violent offense,” according to the statement.

“This new policy is a reasonable response to the thousands of low-level marijuana arrests that weigh down the criminal justice system, require significant resources that could be redirected to more serious crimes and take an unnecessary toll on offenders,” Thompson said. “This policy … will use our prosecutorial discretion to decline to prosecute, and dismiss upfront, certain low-level marijuana possession cases based on criteria concerning the particular individual and the circumstances of the case.”

The DA’s office will continue to prosecute under several other circumstances and, in some cases direct defendants to diversion programs, Thompson noted.

These scenarios include if a defendant is arrested for smoking marijuana in a public place, particularly around children; if the defendant has a criminal record that indicates they may behave violently while under the influence; and if the defendant has an any open warrant, it was noted.

If the defendant is under 18 years old and has recently begun smoking pot, they will be directed to a diversion program.

“My office and the New York City Police Department have a shared mission to protect the public and we will continue to advance that goal. But as district attorney, I have the additional duty to do justice, and not merely convict, and to reform and improve out criminal justice system in Brooklyn,” Thompson said.

The DA’s office processed over 8,500 cases where the top charge was a class B misdemeanor for marijuana possession, it was noted.

“The processing of these cases exacts a cost on the criminal justice system and takes a toll on the individual,” Thompson stated. “Given that these cases are ultimately–and predictably–dismissed, the burdens that they pose on the system and the individual are difficult to justify. We are pouring money into an endeavor that produces no public safety benefit.”

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