Lawsuit Filed Over Arrests For Marijuana

A lawsuit filed Friday by the Legal Aid Society charges that the New York Police Department is routinely ignoring a September directive reminding officers that they may not make arrests on misdemeanor marijuana charges if they have directed suspects to bring into open view the drug. The organization is seeking a court injunction to compel the the department to stop these arrests, arguing that in such cases state law mandates a desk-appearance ticket for a violation that carries a $100 fine. The filing takes aim at one aspect of the department’s stop-and-frisk policy, and comes after a failed bid by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to decriminalize the public possession of small amounts of marijuana. “On the streets of New York City, police are engaging in a ‘gotcha’ practice,” said Steven Banks, attorney-in-chief of the Legal Aid Society. “It’s particularly pernicious because it can’t be undone once it occurs.” Kate O’Brien Ahlers, a spokeswoman for the city’s law department, declined to comment on the lawsuit beyond saying that the city hadn’t yet been formally served and that it would review the complaint thoroughly. The police department did not respond to a request for comment. A desk-appearance ticket is a far lesser penalty than a misdemeanor charge, involving no overnight jail stay, no fingerprinting and no arrest record. When people are arrested on a misdemeanor charge, the lawsuit argues, they are subject to detention in “squalid conditions” and suffer “loss of wages, disruption of home and family life, and the stigma of having arrest record,” which can hinder their ability to find employment. On Sept. 19, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly issued an operations order telling officers that a suspect must display marijuana in public of his or her own volition to be charged with a misdemeanor.

“Thus, uniformed members of the service lawfully exercising their police powers…may not charge the individual with [a misdemeanor] if the marijuana recovered was disclosed to public view at an officer’s direction,” he wrote. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that after Mr. Kelly’s order, arrests on the lowest-level marijuana charge—for less than 25 grams of marijuana in public view—dropped sharply across the city. But the department continues to make thousands of these arrests each month: In March, the number reached 4,186, just shy of the 4,189 such arrests made in August, the month before the directive, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit cites the cases of five men arrested this spring on the misdemeanor charge after, in each case, a police officer discovered a small amount of marijuana while searching the person or, in one case, a friend. In the latter case, Mahendra Singh, 22 years old, of Jamaica, Queens, was charged with a misdemeanor on May 2 after an officer found a small quantity of marijuana while searching a friend who was in the passenger’s seat of Mr. Singh’s car. No drugs were found on Mr. Singh, the lawsuit said, though the complaint filed by the officer alleged that marijuana was recovered from Mr. Singh’s hand. Mr. Singh, a part-time student at Kingsborough Community College who works as a waiter on weekends, spent two nights in police custody. At his arraignment, he accepted an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, which stipulates that a case will be dismissed in six months or a year as long as no offenses are committed during that period. Another plaintiff, Moshesh Harris, 33 years old, of Brooklyn, was arrested twice in less than a year for marijuana in “public view” that in fact was concealed in his clothing, the lawsuit said.

via : Wall Street Journal

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