Mayor de Blasio and law-enforcement leaders last week unveiled the next step in a plan to make it easier for New Yorkers to respond to summonses before they lose control of their cases and wind up with an arrest warrant.
The city has more than 1.5 million warrants on the books going back at least 10 years. Warrants are automatically issued when the recipient misses a court date. Recipients who come into contact with the police again are arrested and brought before a judge, who can levy additional financial penalties.
“People did not show up in court for 38 percent of summonses issued last year,” the Mayor’s Office said.
Mr. de Blasio and then-Chief State Judge Jonathan Lippman announced a plan a year ago to speed up prosecutions and cut down on summons warrants. Their goals are to reduce the population of the city’s troubled Rikers Island jail complex and to free police and court resources to deal with more-serious offenses.
Judge Lippman retired at the end of last year, and his replacement, former Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore, has also joined the initiative. Police Commissioner William J. Bratton is also taking part.
Their reforms to the summons process, announced April 5, include a redesigned summons form that emphasizes the court date and location, text-message reminders of court dates and flexible scheduling of appearances.
A new website, http://www.mysummons.nyc, provides information on individual summonses and will eventually allow recipients to pay online.
‘Safer With Fewer Arrests’
“New York City continues to prove that we can have both more safety and fewer arrests,” Mr. de Blasio said ina statement. “The changes we are rolling out today will help New Yorkers avoid unnecessary warrants—an important step toward a fairer criminal-justice system. These changes will also make sure we stay safe by allowing police to focus on threats to public safety.”
“This will result in a fairer and more-efficient summons process overall,” said Judge DiFiore.
“Reducing the number of warrants for failing to answer a summons will allow our officers to dedicate more time and effort in addressing other public-safety issues,” Mr. Bratton said.
The warrant process “often places an unnecessary burden on the individual issued the warrant and also requires police and court resources to resolve,” the Mayor’s Office said in an announcement. “A high warrant rate can also undermine the public’s confidence in the fairness and effectiveness of the criminal-justice system.”
Apprises Them of Penalties
The revised summons also includes a warning about what can happen if a recipient does not show up in court, a new box for a phone number at which a recipient can receive phone and text-message reminders and a new space for race/ethnicity so the city can track the demographics of those who receive summonses.
The courts began testing phone-based reminders last week, including robocalls and text messages to remind defendants of their court date. Based on the pilot program, an independent behavioral-science company will determine the best methods, which will be rolled out citywide.
In another pilot program, people who receive summonses in Manhattan above 59th St. will be allowed to come to court anytime in the week leading up to their court date. Courts will remain open until 8 p.m. on Tuesdays. If this flexible scheduling increases court appearances, the program will be implemented around the city.
The website will also carry translations of the summons form in various languages.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has separately proposed a parallel system of handling violations for certain quality-of-life crimes, including public drinking and littering, with administrative summonses that would be adjudicated by the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings.
That system would remove those violations from the criminal courts and avoid the threat of warrants issued for people who don’t keep their court dates. Ms. Mark-Viverito has said that the NYPD will set guidelines for when summonses would be handled administratively or criminally.
Some bills have already been introduced by Ms. Mark-Viverito and Council Members Ben Kallos, Rory Lancman and Vanessa Gibson.