BY COUNCILMAN RORY LANCMAN
Biking on the sidewalk. Drinking from an open container. Littering. These are all frustrating acts that, as a city, we want to discourage. However, I don’t believe any of these actions rise to a level that merits putting someone through the criminal justice system. That’s why I was proud to join my Council colleagues in passing the Criminal Justice Reform Act, a package of legislation that will change the way we enforce low-level, quality-of-life offenses.
For decades, if a police officer saw an individual doing one of these violations, he would write a summons that would land that individual in criminal court. At the courthouse, he would wait in line, often for several hours, to go before a judge for all of thirty seconds. Then he would wait in another line to pay a fine. If he missed his court date, as about one million New Yorkers have, a warrant would be issued for his arrest. This has led, countless times, to New Yorkers spending a night or a weekend in jail, all because they stayed in a park after dark once or played their radio too loud.
That’s a consequence far too harsh for the ‘crime’ and far more than is necessary to deter bad conduct. Under the new bills, these offenses will be moved to the civil system. When someone commits one of these offenses, a police officer will still be able to stop them, get ID, and give them a summons. But instead of being forced through the criminal justice system, they will simply have a civil fine which can be contested at a civil administrative hearing.
This is the kind of common sense criminal justice reform that the Council has spearheaded. These reforms recognize that the weight of our courts should not be brought down on low-level offenders. We know that even one night in jail can have a lasting impact on someone’s life. We know that being forced to spend all day at court to pay a $50 fine means eight hours someone wasn’t working or spending time with their family. With the passage of the Criminal Justice Reform Act, we’re making it clear that we don’t think any New Yorker should suffer these consequences for low-level offenses.