Federal Judge Grants Class Action Status To NYC Summons Court Defendants

In an eye opening article by Brent Staples in the New York Times this past week, the issue of the substantial number of NYC Summons Court dismissals was highlighted. The numbers are rather astonishing: in 2011, of the 528,618 summonses issued for a variety of low level offenses, 330,364 were either dismissed outright or thrown out for various evidentiary reasons. The top ten offenses for which summonses are issued include public drinking, (124,498) at number 1; pedestrians obstructing traffic, (35,051) at number 2; and bicycling on the sidewalk, (28,101), at number 3. Public urination was charged both criminally as a misdemeanor and as an administrative violation a total of 25,419 times. Reckless driving, which is a violation of the New York State Vehicle & Traffic Law Section 1212 and is both a misdemeanor charge and a 5 point traffic infraction, (11 points results in a suspended driver’s license), resulted in 11,803 tickets.

Failure to appear in Summons Court is a serious mistake, particularly when such a large number of the summonses are dismissed. A failure to appear will result in a warrant for the person’s arrest. The defendant will likely then be handcuffed, fingerprinted, and jailed. In New York City, there could be a several day wait before the person is brought before a Criminal Court judge. The issuance of a warrant could lead to a permanent criminal record, which clearly can cause significant difficulties obtaining employment or being granted citizenship, for example.

The civil rights suit which was certified by Judge Robert Sweet of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Stinson v. City of New York, alleges that a huge number of the summonses were issued without probable cause by officers who have departmental quotas to meet. The plaintiffs claim that they lost time from work and school and were subject to detention for crimes that never happened. In the lead plaintiff’s case, Sharif Stimson, he alleges that he was leaving his aunt’s apartment building on New Year’s Eve 2009 when several officers appended him without cause, and then threw him in a jail cell for four hours. He was issued a summons for disorderly conduct, which was dismissed three months later.

Another allegation addressed in the suit is the apparently disproportionate number of summonses for public drinking issued to minorities. Officers routinely demand to smell juice containers and coffee cups in an effort to find violators of the public drinking law. Lawyers for the City deny the charges and have requested that Judge Sweet reconsider his certification decision.

If you or a loved one are charged with a crime or traffic infraction, contact the Westchester County Criminal Defense Attorneys online or toll free at (914) 428-7386 for a free initial consultation with an experienced defense attorney to review your case in detail and discuss your legal options. It is important that you respond to a summons right away and know what your rights are before entering a plea—call today!