When New York City announced last year that it would issue tickets instead of making arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana, judges were alarmed, says the New York Times. Already overburdened and mired in time-consuming bureaucracy, summons courts faced the prospect of having to process tens of thousands of additional tickets each year. That change prompted plans, unveiled yesterday, to transform the city's summons process in the hopes of making it more efficient for judges, lawyers and the hundreds of thousands of people charged with low-level violations each year.
The changes are part of a broad reform package announced by chief state judge Jonathan Lippman and Mayor Bill De Blasio to clear backlogs at state courts that keep hundreds locked up in the Rikers Island jail for years without being convicted of a crime. Changes in the summons process could have significant consequences for a far broader swath of the city. Last year, more than 350,000 summonses were issued for violations like drinking alcohol in public or riding a bicycle on a sidewalk, more than half of the total number of criminal cases. “These are people who are not hardened criminals, they are normal people,” said Lippman. “They have jobs, they have families and there has got to be a way to treat them with respect and dignity and get them back to their lives.” This summer, summons recipients will begin receiving robocalls and text messages with reminders of court dates. The city will begin a pilot program in Manhattan that will allow individuals to appear in court any time in the week before their scheduled appearance.