Brooklyn, New York’s Top Prosecutor Opens Door for Expungement of Pot Convictions
by Derek Gilna
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez has announced that he will accept applications from thousands of individuals to erase their low-level marijuana convictions in a program unveiled in September 2018. He said his office has already ceased prosecuting people accused of possessing small amounts of pot. Prosecutors indicated that they will not approve requests from individuals with multiple drug sales, violent crimes, and sex offenses.
Criminal justice experts have noted that individuals with a criminal history have more difficulty finding employment, securing acceptable accommodations, avoiding immigration issues, and are often barred from receiving public benefits. Statistics show that most of those affected by pot arrests are either black or Hispanic.
According to Gonzalez, “It’s a little unfair to have these folks carry these convictions for the rest of their lives.”
It is expected that there are at least 20,000 cases dating back to 1990 that could be impacted, with those crimes removed from these individuals’ criminal histories. “This is really a relief that I think we can provide, and we do it in a way that is safe,” he said.
New York City marijuana arrests peaked at over 50,000 in 2011 and declined to 17,880 in 2017, according to New York’s Division of Criminal Justice Services statistics.
A 2014 New York City policy calls for individuals to be ticketed for small quantities of pot possession and smoking cases.
Joining Gonzalez in shelving low-level pot prosecutions is Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who also agreed in 2018 to forgo prosecution of many misdemeanor pot possession and smoking cases. Prosecutors in San Francisco, Seattle, and San Diego, who have largely ceased low-level pot prosecutions, also have agreed to expunge low-level marijuana convictions, and the California legislature recently passed a bill awaiting Governor Brown’s signature to either remove or reduce over 200,000 marijuana convictions.
Although New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill appears to support the changes, many police officers are not as supportive. “If you want to not have enforcement of arrests,” said Sergeants Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins, “then you need to change the law.”
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