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NYCLU Urges Mayor, District Attorneys to Support Clearing Bench Warrants for Non-Criminal Offenses

The New York Civil Liberties Union sent letters this week to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the district attorneys for the city’s five boroughs urging them to support vacating certain bench warrants issued at least a decade ago. The letters recommend vacating all bench warrants for noncriminal violation offenses that were committed more than ten years ago and moving to dismiss those cases. The NYCLU’s letters come after New York Times reporting indicated that the city’s district attorneys’ offices have agreed to purge warrants that were issued at least 20 years ago.

“An open warrant exposes a person to arrest, which can put a person’s job, child care and housing in jeopardy,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “These warrants are potentially catastrophic for immigrants in light of the Trump administration’s aggressive move to use the criminal justice system as a tool to target people for deportation.”

There may be as many as 1.5 million open warrants for low-level offenses allegedly committed in New York City, according to the Times. These offenses may include such minor noncriminal offenses as littering, being in a park after closing, public urination and riding a bike on a sidewalk.

Open warrants undoubtedly disproportionately affect Blacks and Latinos who are the primary targets for NYPD enforcement of low-level offenses. About 81 percent of the 7.3 million people issued violations between 2001 and 2013 were Black and Latino, according to a previous NYCLU analysis.

Vacating bench warrants that are more than ten years old and that were issued in connection with noncriminal behavior does not pose significant public safety concerns, the NYCLU letters argue. The offenses are typically extremely minor, and the fact that the warrant remains open indicates that the person has not had any negative law-enforcement interactions for more than a decade since.

Under the current plan reportedly agreed to by the city’s district attorneys, close to 200,000 warrants would be dismissed. The NYCLU argues that the district attorneys’ current approach leaves hundreds of thousands of people who pose no risk to public safety vulnerable to arrest. But if offenses more than a decade old are considered, at least 800,000 warrants would be wiped out, according to figures cited by the Times.

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