Imagine getting stopped by a police officer. The officer asks for ID, runs your name and then arrests you for a minor offense committed 15 years ago. You may not even remember having committed the offense and had no idea that there was an arrest warrant with your name on it.
This is, unfortunately, a real-life problem for more than a million New Yorkers. According to a recent article in the New York Times, there more than 1.5 million warrants on file for low-level offenses, many not considered crimes and some committed over 20 years ago. With enough time and some bad luck, a small, unpaid fine for riding your bike on the sidewalk could result in arrest.
A lot of these citations were issued during various eras of increased enforcement: Stop-and-frisk, “broken windows” policing and “zero tolerance” campaigns. Thankfully, enforcing these warrants is not a major priority for most New York police officers. Still, they can land people in trouble for very old offenses that had no impact on public safety. And having the threat of arrest hanging over your head for years is stressful. It may also make you less likely to contact police if you are in need of assistance.
Some relief may be on the horizon. New York’s five district attorneys, in consultation with local politicians and community leaders, are discussing a plan to dismiss some or even many of these old warrants. Currently, between 10 and 50 percent of warrants could possibly be dismissed.
There seems to be consensus that warrants can be dismissed if they are at least 20 years old. But some district attorneys and community leaders would like to lower that threshold to 10 years old.
In the meantime, if you have been arrested for an old warrant or for any new offense, please contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.