Criminal Justice Reform Act Creates More Appropriate Penalties for Minor, Non-Violent Offenses
Speaker Mark-Viverito: “This is a huge win for criminal justice reform.”

City Hall – Today, the New York City Council passed the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA), a package of bills which will lower penalties for low-level, non-violent offenses. It is estimated that the CJRA will divert over 100,000 cases from the criminal court system every year, save close to 10,000 people annually from having a permanent criminal record for minor offenses, and avoid the issuance of over 50,000 warrants each year. The vote on this legislation comes after a hearing in January, and over a year after Speaker Mark-Viverito laid out her case for criminal justice reform in her 2015 State of the City address.

The CJRA creates more proportional penalties for certain low-level, non-violent offenses. These include having an open container of alcohol in public, parks rules, littering, public urination, and unreasonable noise. These offenses will continue to be illegal; however, the CRJA will establish that the preferred venue for pursuing penalties for these offenses will be in civil, rather than criminal court. The CJRA will also reduce the available jail penalties to 1 day for these violations, and establish uniform penalties for these offenses throughout the City, including in parks.

“This is a huge win for criminal justice reform,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “For too long, our criminal justice system was broken and it was time we took action. The Criminal Justice Reform Act will prevent tens of thousands of people from getting a criminal record for low-level, non-violent offenses and over its lifetime it is going to change trajectories for countless New Yorkers. This legislation is the culmination of over a year and a half of work, and I thank Commissioner Bratton, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and the NYPD for their partnership.”

Introduction 1057-A, sponsored by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, would declare that criminal enforcement of these low-level, non-violent offenses should be used in only limited circumstances, and that in the absence of such circumstances, civil enforcement should be utilized. The bill would require the NYPD to develop guidance for its officers regarding when to issue a civil or criminal summons. It is anticipated that such guidance will indicate that persons should receive criminal summonses when, for example, they have repeatedly violated a particular provision of the law or failed to pay their fines. This guidance would be made public, and the law would take effect in one year.

Introduction 1059-A, sponsored by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, would establish that the Office of Administrative Tribunals and Hearings (OATH) offer a community service option in lieu of a monetary penalty to those who violate the covered offenses. Community service could include programs intended to improve or educate the respondent. If a person opts to do community service but fails to complete such service, the applicable civil penalty will be reinstated. Additionally, a notice of violation may be dismissed in the interests of justice, an action currently available in criminal court. Pursuant to this legislation, OATH will track and report on number of metrics regarding adjudications of the covered offenses, as well as evaluate judgments to determine if a cap should be placed on specified violations within a particular period of time. This law would take effect in one year.

Int. 1056-A, sponsored by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, would establish that most parks rules are violations, rather than misdemeanors. Examples include being in the park after closing, failure to comply with parks signs, going on newly-seeded grass and feeding animals. Pursuant to this legislation, the Parks Department will no longer be able to create misdemeanors on its own, a power that is more appropriately left to the City legislature. Additionally, this legislation would classify a number of more egregious parks rules as misdemeanors, including unlawful construction or excavation, unlawful dumping and failing to obey a lawful order of a police or peace officer. This law would take effect in one year, except that being in the park after closing and failing to comply with parks signs would no longer be a misdemeanor in 30 days.

Introduction 1058-A, sponsored by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, would establish a civil penalty scheme for non-commercial unreasonable noise of $75-$150 for a first offense; $150-$250 for a second offense; and $350-$500 for a third offense. This law would take effect in 9 months.

Introduction 1067-A, sponsored by Council Member Vanessa Gibson, would add a civil penalty of $25 for having an open container of alcohol in public (a criminal penalty of $25 currently exists). This law would take effect in nine months.

“The Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2016 gives our police force tools to address low-level offenses for what they are: infractions to be taken seriously, but not ones that should yield life altering consequences,” said Council Public Safety Chair Vanessa Gibson. “This balanced approach recognizes low-level offenses should have proportionate penalties and will reduce the burden on our criminal court system. The CJRA represents the Council’s push for fairness, dignity, and equity in the criminal justice system and I am proud to sponsor one of the bills in this package. I thank Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for her leadership and dedication to summons reform and thank my colleagues and bill sponsors for their ongoing support of a more fair and just New York.”

Introduction 1070-A, sponsored by Council Member Rory Lancman, would establish a civil penalty scheme for personal littering and public urination of $75 for a first offense; $250-$350 for a second offense within twelve months; and $350-$450 for a third offense within twelve months. It would also add spitting to the littering law and repeal an unconstitutional provision relating to distribution of advertising materials. This law would take effect in 60 days.

“No one should be put through the criminal justice system for committing a nonviolent, low-level, quality-of-life offense,” said Council Member Rory I. Lancman, chair of the Courts & Legal Services Committee. “By moving these charges into the civil system, we can keep our city safe and clean, and keep our criminal justice system resources focused on fighting real crime. I’m proud to join Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in taking this important step toward a fairer and more efficient New York City.”

Introduction 639-B, sponsored by Council Member Jumaane Williams, would require the NYPD to track and report quarterly on the number of criminal and civil summonses issued and the criteria applied, based on NYPD guidelines, in making the determination to issue a civil or criminal summons. This data would be disaggregated by offense, race, gender, age, and the borough and precinct in which the summons was issued. The first quarterly report would be due beginning October 1, 2017.

“It is obvious to all conscientious people that the criminal justice system has had a disproportionately negative affect on Black, Brown and poor communities,” said Council Member Jumaane Williams. “The unequal enforcement of law and practices that happen in communities of more color has had lasting intergenerational effects on families and neighborhoods, systematically destroying the futures of so many. The Criminal Justice Reform Act is a common sense approach at reexamining this system so that it is applied more justly, without putting the public in harm’s way. Too often our young men and women are unable to find employment, or secure housing or government assistance because of minor infractions. Allowing an option for civil penalties for low-level, nonviolent offenses will go a long way in at least giving all New Yorkers a chance to have a bright future. I’m proud that once again New York City is leading the way.”

Introduction 662-A, sponsored by Council Member Mark Levine, would require the NYPD to track and report quarterly on the issuance of desk appearance tickets (DATs), disaggregated by offense, race, gender, age and the borough, patrol precinct, housing service area and transit district in which the DAT was issued. The report would include the guidelines used to determine when to issue a DAT, and the first quarterly report would be due beginning July 1, 2016. DATs are similar to summonses, but they are used for misdemeanors defined in State law and require an offender to be fingerprinted and booked before they are released.

“For our criminal justice system to be truly just, the penalties we impose must be proportional to the offenses committed. But for far too long, our jails have been filled with people–many of them young people of color–who have committed minor offenses or couldn’t afford to pay bail,” said Council Member Mark Levine. “The simple truth is this doesn’t make us any safer. Instead it gives too many young people who we need to help uplift our communities the scarlet letter of a criminal record for life. The reforms we will pass in the City Council are critical to changing this, and I thank Speaker Mark-Viverito for her fierce advocacy for equal justice.”