District Attorney Kenneth Thompson and his staff are in the process of reviewing hundreds of these cases that have accumulated in the system in order to weed out those in which they have no intention of prosecuting.
The Brooklyn District Attorney’s office recently announced plans to start throwing out cases involving low-level marijuana possession. Earlier this week, Thompson indicated the new policy was in full effect and that his team was already hard at work releasing individuals from the wrath of the local drug war.
“We’re going to look at each pending case and make a decision,” Thompson told DNAinfo New York, adding that the primary goal of the new policy is to keep thousands of marijuana cases from ever seeing the inside of a Brooklyn courtroom. “We’ve already started declining to prosecute certain cases.”
However, the Brooklyn DA and the NYPD do not exactly share the enthusiasm of the borough’s pseudo-decriminalization efforts. During a press conference last week at Queens College, NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton told reporters that the DA’s new policy does not change the policies and procedures of his police force. “The Brooklyn DA has the authority to determine how his office will prosecute cases, but that does not limit the authority of the NYPD to make lawful arrests,” said Bratton.
This conflicting opinion does not bother Thompson, who says the NYPD can continue wasting time busting people in Brooklyn for small-time marijuana possession if they feel it is necessary. Yet, once the case finds its way to the DA’s office, that could be as far as it goes.
“We’re not asking the NYPD to do anything differently,” he said. “If they find someone who’s committed an offense, they have the right to arrest that person. What we’re saying is, once the person has been arrested and we get notified, then we have an obligation to look at the facts of each case and to determine whether we should spend resources on prosecuting that case.”
Thompson says he is not aware of any other district attorney’s office in the country willing to adopt this innovative approach to handling marijuana offenses. “We think it’s important,” he said.
The collective responsibility of law enforcement and prosecutors, said Thompson, is to keep the community safe by removing dangerous criminals from the streets, not flooding the criminal justice system with marijuana users. “I was honest with the people of Brooklyn that I intended to do something about the way the marijuana cases were being handled,” he added. “I have responsibility over Brooklyn and this is what I believe is in the best interest of the people of Brooklyn.”