Legal Aid Society Sues New York City over Bogus Pot Arrests

It is no secret that NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly’s internal memo ordering his officers to follow the law on marijuana "in public view" arrests did not work -- and now the Legal Aid Society has filed a lawsuit accusing police of ignoring it. After Kelly’s September order, the NYPD continued to uncover marijuana via routine stop-and-frisks, during which police either told suspects to empty their pockets and belongings or did so themselves.  Even though the pot wasn’t in public view until cops made it that way, they continued to charge  people with the more serious crime of weed that is visible.

“It’s certainly a sad commentary that the commissioner can issue a directive that reads well on paper but on the street corners of the city doesn’t exist,” said Legal Aid’s attorney Steven Banks. Kelly’s memo resulted in a temporary dip in marijuana arrests, but 2011 -- with more than 50,000 marijuana arrests -- was the second highest year for pot busts in New York City history. Almost 90% of those arrested were Black and Latino, the majority of them young men.

The lawsuit filed against the city and the Police Department Friday seeks the court to declare the practice illegal under state law and forbid officers from making the bogus arrests for which they should already be punished.

From The New York Times:

Legal Aid lawyers brought the suit on behalf of five New Yorkers who, they say, were victims of “gotcha” police tactics. The five men were all arrested since mid-April, four in Brooklyn and one on Staten Island; they were charged with misdemeanor possession after small amounts of marijuana were found on them during police stops. In each case, the marijuana became visible only after officers searched the men or asked them to empty their pockets, the suit says.
Under state law, possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense when the drug is being smoked or “open to public view.” Possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana out of public view — for example, inside an individual’s pocket or backpack — is a violation, warranting only a ticket.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of the New York Assembly’s failures to pass Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to decriminalize marijuana in public view, which would have reduced the consequences of a oit bust for tens of thousands of Black and Latino New Yorkers.

AlterNet / By Kristen Gwynne

Posted at June 25, 2012, 6:22am

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