As the city and state attempt to reform the criminal justice system, the Queens district attorney announced he will dismiss nearly 100,000 open warrants for low-level offenses that are at least 10 years old.
DA Richard Brown joined his counterparts in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan in an unprecedented move to vacate about 1.5 million summonses, issued to mostly black and Latino individuals.
The unresolved warrants left New Yorkers vulnerable to automatic arrest when stopped by police and posed a barrier to hiring, obtaining citizenship and finding an apartment in public housing.
These summonses, which stemmed from failure to pay a ticket for minor incidents such as visiting a park after hours, could be the grounds for deportation for undocumented immigrants. The DAs will dismiss the warrants in court actions this month.
This is a welcome step in the city’s efforts to give New Yorkers a clean slate after the stop-and-frisk era and unclog the overburdened court system.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council finally worked out an agreement this week on how to pay the legal fees for undocumented workers facing deportation because of felony convictions. City Hall had balked at dipping into public funds to represent immigrants found guilty of serious crimes, but private donors will kick in $250,000 for their defense.
This was a good compromise on a sticky issue for the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, which provides free legal services for poor immigrants. Under city law an undocumented worker convicted of one of 170 serious crimes must be turned over to immigration authorities.
For lesser crimes, Councilman Rory Lancman wants a public accounting of the MTA rules against fare evasion. In the first six months of this year, police stopped straphangers more than 30,000 times for jumping the turnstiles and nearly 75 percent received a civil summons, he said. But of those, 8,600 fare dodgers were arrested for a misdemeanor offense under state law, which could spell deportation for even legal immigrants.
Lancman has introduced a bill that would require the NYPD to keep track of fare evasion arrests and summonses right down to the subway station, the police precinct and the age, gender and race of the person targeted.
He is pushing to document the racial disparity in the NYPD’s evasion arrests, which have snared blacks and Latinos in over 85 percent of the cases in the last three years.
The wheels of justice are turning slowly in the city, but reform — however modest at first — is on the way.