Brooklyn District Attorney Announces Two Events to Allow Individuals to Erase Past Low-Level Marijuana Convictions

Thursday, December 6, 2018


Brooklyn District Attorney Announces Two Events to
Allow Individuals to Erase Past Low-Level Marijuana Convictions

Community-Based Opportunities to Consult with Defense Lawyers and File
Motions to Erase Convictions for Cases that are No Longer Being Prosecuted in Brooklyn

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced two community-based sessions next week where individuals who have been previously convicted in Brooklyn for a misdemeanor marijuana possession offense will be able to meet with a defense lawyer at no cost and fill out a motion asking to erase that conviction. The District Attorney’s Office will consent to those motions and will ask a judge to vacate the convictions, representing the first initiative of its kind in New York State.

The program – which is one of the recommendations DA Gonzalez adopted as part of his Justice 2020 Initiative – is in partnership with The Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, Brooklyn Law School and the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at New York University School of Law, and follows DA Gonzalez’s decision to stop prosecuting all but the most egregious cases involving possession and smoking of small amounts of marijuana.

District Attorney Gonzalez said, “This is a unique and groundbreaking opportunity for folks who are burdened by convictions for conduct we no longer prosecute to clear their record and get a fresh start in time for the new year. I encourage every eligible person to attend one of these events, get much-needed relief and help us make a real impact as we work to correct the policies of the past and begin to heal our communities.”

Dawn Ryan, Attorney-In-Charge of the Brooklyn Trial Office at The Legal Aid Society, said, “A criminal record stemming from a misdemeanor marijuana conviction holds people back in a myriad of ways and can affect a person’s employment, education and immigration status. I therefore urge everyone in Brooklyn with such a conviction to attend one of these sessions, meet with a public defender and receive consultation on erasing it from their record. The Legal Aid Society is proud to be part of this much-needed program.”

Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services, said, “Anyone who has a conviction for marijuana should come to one of the clinics and get legal advice about their eligibility to have that conviction removed from their record. These convictions have wide-reaching impact on many people, including barring access to student loans, reducing employment and housing opportunities and even causing people to lose custody of their children. We will provide assistance on all these matters at the clinics.”

Under the new program, those with a past conviction for misdemeanor marijuana possession (PL 221.15, PL 221.10 or PL 221.05) will meet with a defense lawyer, who will counsel them and will fill out the legal documents. After a review by the DA’s Office, the case will subsequently be called in court, where the DA’s Office will consent to the motion and ask that the conviction be vacated, and the underlying charge dismissed (the Office may oppose motions from individuals with prior convictions for certain violent felonies or sex offenses). Individuals will have the option of waiving their appearance in court if they so choose.

Those seeking to erase their conviction(s) should attend one of these events in person:

  • Tuesday, December 11, 2018, 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. at the Office of Assembly Member Tremaine Wright, 1360 Fulton Street, Room 417 in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
  • Saturday, December 15, 2018, 10 a.m. – 12 noon at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, 450 Clarkson Avenue in Flatbush.

Participants are only required to bring a form of identification and, if they have, should also bring any paperwork or information regarding their past conviction(s). Additional events are planned for 2019.

Starting in the spring of 2018, the DA gradually expanded his policy of not prosecuting low-level marijuana possession cases to include cases involving smoking in public, which are charged under the same statutes as possession (PL 221.10 and 221.05). The only individuals currently prosecuted for these offenses are those who pose a threat to public safety (e.g. driving with burning marijuana), create a genuine nuisance (e.g. smoking on public transportation or in a schoolyard where children are exposed to smoke) or are involved in violent criminal activity (i.e. “drivers of crime”).

Following the policy change, the number of marijuana possession cases that were accepted for prosecution this year declined from 349 in January to five in October – a drop of 98.5%. DA Gonzalez has called for the issuance of civil summonses as a response to low-level marijuana use and possession, as opposed to criminal summonses that make up the current response to most low-level marijuana offenses.