Manhattan Disrtict Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. at a press conference to announce fraud charges of executives of Dewey LeBoeuf on March 6, 2014. (Rick Kopstein)
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announced Friday that it will not prosecute most “turnstile jumping” cases and minor drug offenses, effectively eliminating 20,000 criminal cases a year.
“The criminal prosecution of these low-level, non-violent offenses should not be a part of a reformed 21st-century justice system,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a news release. “Absent a demonstrated public safety risk, criminally prosecuting New Yorkers accused of these offenses does not make us safer.”
Offenders would be given citations and access to early intervention programs “without ever setting foot in a courtroom,” Vance said. The goal is for prosecutors to focus resources on more serious crimes while strengthening bonds between law enforcement officers and residents.
Vance said transferring these misdemeanor cases out of Criminal Court would prevent “unnecessary incarceration and reduce the risks of deportation, loss of housing, and loss of employment that often accompany a criminal prosecution.”
He noted that since 2010, his office has worked with the NYPD and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to halt prosecution of tens of thousands of low-level cases “that needlessly bog down our Criminal Court and swell our city’s jail population.”
Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the criminal practice at The Legal Aid Society, swiftly called on prosecutors in other boroughs to follow suit.
“The district attorneys in Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Bronx have an opportunity to do right by their constituents and end prosecuting turnstile arrests immediately,” Luongo said in a statement. “Ones’ chances of a second shot should not depend on the borough you’re arrested in.”
New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman called the change “an important correction to the tarnished legacy of Broken Windows.”
“Minor misdeeds like fare beating shouldn’t result in criminal records,” she said.