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.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1. WHAT IS THIS?
An opportunity created by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office to help individuals clear their misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions.
2. DO I QUALIFY?
The program applies to misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions that were obtained in Kings County (Brooklyn). It does not matter how long ago or when these convictions took place!
3. WHAT IF I’M NOT SURE I QUALIFY, WHERE DO I GET AN ATTORNEY?
You will be given the advice and assistance of attorneys from Brooklyn Defender Services or The Legal Aid Society at any of the locations on this flyer. These lawyers will give you advice about the benefits of this process as well as prepare the appropriate forms to remove your misdemeanor marijuana possession conviction. There will be no fee for this service.
5. DO I HAVE TO GO IN PERSON?
Yes, you will have to go in person. An attorney will meet with you and help you prepare the forms. The DA’s Office will approve them and recommend to the court that your conviction be erased from your
record. You will not be required to come to court but make sure your attorney has good contact information for you so you can be notified when this happens.
4. WHERE DO I GO?
You should stop by one of these events:
– Tuesday, December 11, 2018 (5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.)/ Office of Assemblymember Tremaine Wright/ 1360 Fulton Street, Room 417
– Saturday, December 15, 2018 (10 a.m. – 12 noon)/ SUNY Downstate/ 450 Clarkson Avenue
6. WHAT DO I NEED TO BRING?
All you need to bring is a form of identification. If you have any paperwork or other information about your conviction(s), bring it to show your attorney.
7. HOW LONG WILL THIS TAKE?
It will take approximately 15-30 minutes to consult and fill out the appropriate forms with the defense attorneys. There may also be a line for waiting to meet an attorney. After the forms have been completed, it will take approximately 90 days for the conviction to be removed from your record.
8. WHAT IF I HAVE A CONVICTION FROM A DIFFERENT COUNTY?
This program only applies to convictions that occurred in Kings County (Brooklyn) and not to convictions that happened in other counties in New York City or elsewhere.
9. DO I NEED TO LIVE IN BROOKLYN?
No. The program applies to convictions that occurred in Kings County (Brooklyn) and it does not matter where you live now or when the conviction happened – only that the conviction is from Brooklyn.
10. WHAT IF I AM CONCERNED ABOUT MY IMMIGRATION STATUS?
Immigration status will not prevent you from clearing your misdemeanor marijuana possession conviction. There will be attorneys at these events who can analyze your immigration status and make a recommendation to you as to the best course of action. Any information you provide these attorneys will be confidential.