NYC to End Most Formal Low Level Marijuana Arrest - Summonses to be Issued Instead
Starting in August, the NYPD will no longer be making formal low-level marijuana arrests in most cases, and instead shifting to a procedure where people will be issued small pink summonses. This does NOT mean that marijuana has suddenly become legal in New York City. It simply means that a high level decision has been made to enforce existing laws differently. The change has come on the heels of a growing body of data that suggests that in New York City marijuana laws appear to have been enforced disproportionately against minorities. It also is consistent with an apparent shift in the public's attitude toward marijuana that has exhibited itself in numerous states legalizing marijuana altogether.
Under current police and prosecution policies, people found to be in possession of small amounts of marijuana or smoking marijuana in public are typically formally arrested (fingerprints taken, pictures taken) but they are allowed to bypass the often lengthy and grueling 24 hour "through the system" arrest to arraignment process through the Desk Appearance Ticket system. A Desk Appearance Ticket (DAT) allows for the person arrested to be released after the initial arrest processing and is given a date to return to court in the near future. While a superior experience for the person arrested, it does represent usually about 4 hours in custody, not to mention, the requirement that the person submit to arrest processing procedures.
Under the new procedures, most people found with small amounts of marijuana or smoking marijuana in public will now simply be written a pink summons ticket that is a far less intrusive process, much like getting a speeding ticket. Pink summons matters are still heard in Criminal Court, but they are heard in a special court meant only to handle these mostly less serious matters.
Getting pink summonses is not, however, an invitation to ignore the matters, or to think that they could not carry consequences. Failure to appear in criminal court could lead to a warrant being issued. Also, there will be people in certain situations, whether because of employment concerns, educational loan eligibility concerns, and immigration concerns, who will need to continue to pay extremely careful attention to these matters even though they are "only" charged on pink summonses.
For example, it is tempting to feel as if getting a pink summons is so trivial that it need not be reported to immigration authorities on immigration forms. That temptation must be resisted and legal counsel sought by all those who have immigration concerns and who are accused of any offense, even if the offense is written up on "just" a pink summons.
Therefore, starting in August, people accused of low level marijuana possession who would have experienced the terror and humiliation of arrest booking procedures such as fingerprinting and mug shot taking will mostly be spared in favor of getting pink summonses. Of course, given that the laws have remained unchanged, individual cases could still be prosecuted as before, where the police or prosecutors believe that some important interest overrides the new general policy. And finally, those receiving the pink summonses, especially non-citizens and those holding certain employment positions, still need legal counsel to ensure that the matters are resolved in ways consistent with their needs.
BY DON A. MURRAY, ESQ.
I have been a New York City criminal defense lawyer for more than 27 years helping people accused of marijuana offenses and other offenses in NYC Criminal Courts. Call me at 718-268-2171 to discuss your case.