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handcuffs criminal lawOn Jan. 1, 2020, a highly publicized criminal justice reform law went into effect in New York state. In the wake of the law’s enactment, the Governor, legislators and the legal community have primarily focused on changes to two aspects of the criminal procedure law: bail and discovery. While these changes have caught the headlines, the Legislature has instituted another modification to the Criminal Procedure Law that could even more significantly impact the lives of New Yorkers. The Legislature has amended the text of CPL 150.20(1)(a), which covers police practices for issuing appearance tickets for certain offenses. The new text of CPL 150.20(1)(a) reads,

Whenever a police officer is authorized pursuant to section 140.10 of this title to arrest a person without a warrant for an offense other than a class A, B, C or D felony or a violation of section 130.25, 130.40, 205.10, 205.17, 205.19 or 215.56 of the penal law, he [may] shall, except as set out in paragraph (b) of this subdivision, subject to the provisions of subdivisions three and four of section 150.40 of this title, instead issue to and serve upon such person an appearance ticket.

(emphasis added). By replacing the word “may” with “shall”, the plain meaning of CPL 150.20(1)(a) now bars arrests for most low-level offenses and instead mandates that police serve an appearance ticket upon most individuals who have committed misdemeanors or violations. Specifically, the statute states that police must not only issue an appearance ticket to an individual suspected of a low level crime but must issue a ticket instead of arresting that individual. An “appearance ticket” in the statute refers to any instrument issued by an authorized officer that directs a person to appear in criminal court. In practice, an “appearance ticket” can refer to a desk appearance ticket (DAT), which is issued at the police precinct following an arrest, or a criminal summons, for which an arrest is not required. Because CPL 150.20(1)(a) bars arrests for most low level crimes, it follows that the police are required to issue a criminal summons on the street to a person who is suspected of a low level crime as opposed to issuing a DAT, for which an arrest is required. In limited circumstances pursuant to 150.20(1)(b), such as a sex-related offense or domestic violence, the police can arrest the individual and not issue an appearance ticket.

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