District Attorney Kenneth Thompson announced back in July a new policy in regards to marijuana possession. Under the new policy, the Kings County District Attorneys Office in Brooklyn, New York will no longer prosecute first-time offenders who were arrested for low-level misdemeanor marijuana possession. Low-level possession is twenty-five grams or less. DA Thompson’s policy reasons for this change included making better use of limited resources, and preventing otherwise good young men from being saddled with a criminal record due to a minor, non-violent offense. Before the policy was in effect, seventy percent of those arrested for marijuana possession in New York had no prior criminal record. Furthermore, eight-five percent of those who were arrested, were minorities, specifically blacks and Hispanics. In 2012 alone, more than 12,000 people were arrested for small amounts of marijuana possession. The District Attorney also cited that most judges in the county already tended to dismiss Class B misdemeanor marijuana possession, and that the focus should be on more serious crimes.
The new policy has designated which offenders will not be prosecuted and which will. According to Mr. Thompson, if the offender has little or no criminal record, the Office will not prosecute the case. This includes no prior arrests or criminal convictions, or a very minimal criminal record. The offender also has to provide the police with a verified name and address.
In addition to stating to whom the new policy applies, the press release listed a number of circumstances where the new policy will not apply. The policy does not apply if there is a public health or public safety concern. It also does not apply to those who were smoking marijuana in a public place, especially places where children frequent such as parks, playgrounds, schools, and public transportation. Additionally, the policy does not apply to offenders who are sixteen or seventeen years old. Instead, these offenders will be directed to an adolescent court where they will be assigned to a diversion program. Finally, the policy does not apply to defendants who may act violently or in a dangerous manner when under the influence of marijuana, have an open warrant, need his or her DNA collected, have been issued a search warrant in the case, or must register as a sex offender.
District Attorney Thompson made it a point to say in the press release that he does not condone marijuana use. Instead, the policy is to help those first-time offenders by not saddling them with a criminal record so that it does not affect their future education, employment, and housing.
While this policy designates the intent of the Kings County District Attorney’s Office, it has no impact on New York police officers. According to the New York Police Department’s Commissioner Bratton, the new policy does change how the police officers will conduct their arrests. So what does this mean for criminal law practitioners in Brooklyn, New York? Well, this policy comes at the heels of other jurisdictions that are also decriminalizing marijuana possession. Now, prosecutors in Brooklyn have more leeway in deciding whether or not to prosecute a defendant arrested for low-level marijuana possession. Prosecutors will have to weigh factors, such as the circumstances surrounding the arrest and prior criminal history, in determining whether or not to prosecute. For defense attorneys, it seems like there is hope for their clients. For one thing, depending on the charges their client faces, if low-level possession is one of the charges, it will most likely get dropped, which then means less potential jail time for the offender. All in all, both prosecutors and defense attorneys will have a lot less cases to deal with in Brooklyn.
Written by Cassandre Plantin
Staffer, Criminal Law Practitioner
Photo by the Ravenhurst via Wikimedia Commons