Brooklyn DA dismisses over 3,500 ganja cases

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez speaks during a news conference, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York.
Associated Press /Mary Altaffer/ File

Brooklyn District Attorney, Eric Gonzalez on Tuesday asked the court to dismiss 3,578 marijuana cases that remained on the docket mostly because of open warrants.

With this move, nearly all marijuana cases in Brooklyn have been dismissed.

Since the State Legislature legalized marijuana in March, the DA’s Office dismissed about 240 active cases in which marijuana was charged, while marijuana charges that are included in felony cases are being dismissed in the course of court proceedings.

“For too long, criminalization of marijuana has disproportionately impacted young people and communities of color whose members made up about 90 percent of those arrested,” Gonzalez said.

“These arrests ruined the lives of thousands of people over the years, saddling many with criminal convictions that prevented them from pursuing opportunities in life,” he added. “That was why, in Brooklyn, we stopped prosecuting possession cases in 2014 and went further in 2017, declining prosecution of nearly all smoking cases as well. A year later, we also moved to dismiss warrant cases.”

Gonzalez said he was gratified that the New York Legislature legalized marijuana earlier this year in a bill that included an automatic expungement provision.

Since its passage, he said his office has moved to dismiss open cases, stating that he will no longer bring pending marijuana charges before grand or petit juries.

“Today, I asked the Court to dismiss over 3,500 warrant cases that remained in the system, effectively clearing the Brooklyn docket from these vestiges of previous models of policing and prosecution,” Gonzalez said. “I hope that these actions will help strengthen community trust in the justice system, and allow us to continue moving forward with more fairness and equity.”

The Brooklyn District Attorney on Tuesday appeared before Brooklyn Criminal Court Judge Keisha Espinal and requested that 3,578 pending marijuana cases be dismissed and that the court vacate any relevant arrest warrants, judgments of conviction and guilty pleas related to those cases.

Gonzalez said his office has been leading the city in marijuana decriminalization. His predecessor, the late Ken Thompson, stopped prosecuting marijuana possession cases in Brooklyn in 2014.

In 2017, Gonzalez, as the acting DA, went further and declined to prosecute nearly all marijuana smoking cases as well.

As a result, he said marijuana arrests in Brooklyn, which numbered in the thousands every year earlier in that decade, had slowed to a trickle by 2018.

In September 2018, Gonzalez moved to vacate over 3,000 summons warrants for marijuana possession and dismissed the underlying cases.

In December of that same year, he moved to dismiss over 1,400 criminal court warrants.

His office also initiated a program to erase and seal old marijuana convictions, and Gonzalez urged Albany to clear those convictions en masse through legislation.

Currently, Gonzalez only eight cases that include marijuana charges remain in Brooklyn Criminal Court; they involve allegations of driving while impaired.

In the Brooklyn Supreme Court, marijuana charges that are included in more serious felony cases will be dismissed in the course of court proceedings, and those charges will not be brought before any jury, Gonzalez said.

He thanked the Office of Court Administration, especially Antonio Diaz, acting chief clerk of New York City Criminal Court, and Charles Blaha, acting borough chief clerk of Brooklyn Criminal Court, for facilitating the dismissals.

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