Brooklyn District Attorney Will Stop Prosecuting Small-Time Weed Busts

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Photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty ImagesUriel Sinai/Getty2011 Getty Images

Brooklyn district attorney Ken Thompson, whose successful campaign against Charles Hynes included a pledge to stop prosecuting low-level marijuana arrests, seems to be following through: According to a policy proposal sent to NYPD chief Bill Bratton (and leaked to a couple newspapers), Thompson's office will move to "immediately dismiss" charges against people caught with small amounts of pot, as long as they have non-existent or minimal criminal records. Additionally, the police "will be directed to destroy the defendant’s fingerprints."

"When a defendant has neither a criminal record nor an open arrest or warrant, it makes no sense for the criminal justice system, including a District Attorney's Office, to devote its scarce resources to lengthy case processing," explained the memo. Thompson's note also said that the potential change was intended to ensure that "individuals, and especially young people of color, do not become unfairly burdened and stigmatized by involvement in the criminal justice system for engaging in nonviolent conduct that poses no threat of harm to persons or property."

Indeed, according to a 2013 NYCLU report, black people in Brooklyn and Manhattan are nine times as likely be arrested for possessing weed than white people. Last year, Brooklyn processed 8,500 Class B misdemeanor marijuana charges (the most minor kind), most of which ended up being dismissed anyway. But, Thompson pointed out, even dismissals are often preceded by time in a holding cell. And, "'Even when the defendant is issued a DAT (sparing him or her the daunting holding-cell experience) the defendant must still make sure that he or she appears in court on the DAT arraignment date,' time that 'might otherwise be spent in school, at a job or caring for a child.'"

Bratton, who endorses the "broken windows" policing policy, which makes going after small-time crimes a priority, told the Times that he wasn't ready to "respond to something that I have not basically reviewed in great depth or had discussions with the district attorney about." He added that the NYPD would continue making marijuana arrests, though with "a lot more discretion."