In a bid to reduce the number of people who pass through city jails and criminal courts on minor charges, the district attorneys of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan have moved to dismiss 644,494 warrants. These warrants were issued over the past 10 years for minor crimes such as public drinking or riding a bicycle on the sidewalk.
The warrant amnesty affects all boroughs except Staten Island and makes a deep cut into the 1.6 million warrants the city had built up in its system. In making the decision to hold the amnesty, the DAs tried to balance public safety concerns with the need for leniency in order to reduce burdens on the courts. Additionally, the city is facing a federal lawsuit over its stop-and-frisk practices, which created many of the warrants.
Not every old warrant for a minor offense has been dismissed. Those who'd had another brush with the law in the past decade were excluded. That includes people who had felony warrants in addition to these minor ones, or who were being investigated for other offenses.
If you have an old warrant that has been dismissed, you will not be notified. It's also important to know that it could take as long as three weeks for court clerks to process the paperwork and let the police know.
That said, these warrants are considered low priority, according to the New York Times. Typically, the police don't act on them unless the person involved is stopped for a separate reason.
Warrant amnesty will prevent unjust job, housing and immigration consequences
"New Yorkers with 10-year-old summons warrants face unnecessary unemployment risk, housing and immigration consequences," said Manhattan's DA. "And because they fear they will be arrested for the old infraction, they often don't collaborate with law enforcement."
For immigrants, especially, the warrant amnesty could be of enormous value. Many immigration lawyers believe that legal immigrants face a serious risk of deportation under the Trump administration if they have any criminal issue. In the past, deportations were selectively prioritized against people who had committed serious crimes.
Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a statement in support of the amnesty. Old warrants "can derail lives, disrupt families and lead to job loss," he said.
The amnesty may not need to be repeated, if some new city policing policies continue. The NYPD and DAs are intentionally prosecuting fewer people for minor marijuana charges. Last year, the city council made some minor offenses into civil ticket offenses. Also, the Manhattan DA's office has said it will no longer criminally prosecute most instances of fare-beating.