NYPD Sues For POM Arrests

June 25, 2012


The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Legal Aid Society is suing the New York City police department for possession of marijuana arrests.  

The organization is seeking a court injunction to compel the department to stop these arrests. They are arguing that in such cases, state law mandates a desk-appearance ticket for a violation that carries a $100 fine.

The filing takes aim at one aspect of the department's stop-and-frisk policy, and comes after a failed bid by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to decriminalize the public possession of small amounts of marijuana.

"On the streets of New York City, police are engaging in a 'gotcha' practice." said Steven Banks, attorney-in-chief of the Legal Aid Society. "It's particularly pernicious because it can't be undone once it occurs."

A desk-appearance ticket carries a far lesser penalty than a misdemeanor charge, involving no overnight jail stay, no fingerprinting and no arrest record.

When people are arrested on a misdemeanor charge, the lawsuit argues, they are subject to detention in ‘squalid conditions’ and suffer ‘loss of wages, disruption of home and family life, and the stigma of having arrest record,’ which can hinder their ability to find employment.

On Sept. 19, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly issued an operations order telling officers," A suspect must display marijuana in public of his or her own volition in order to be charged with a misdemeanor. Thus, uniformed members of the service lawfully exercising their police powers...may not charge the individual with [a misdemeanor] if the marijuana recovered was disclosed to public view at an officer's direction." 

The lawsuit cites the cases of five men arrested this spring on the misdemeanor charge after, in each case, a police officer discovered a small amount of marijuana while searching the person or, in one case, a friend.

In the latter case, Mahendra Singh, 22 years old, of Jamaica, Queens, was charged with a misdemeanor on May 2 after an officer found a small quantity of marijuana while searching a friend who was in the passenger's seat of Mr. Singh's car.

No drugs were found on Mr. Singh, the lawsuit said, though the complaint filed by the officer alleged that marijuana was recovered from Mr. Singh's hand.

Mr. Singh, a part-time student at Kingsborough Community College who works as a waiter on weekends, spent two nights in police custody. At his arraignment, he accepted an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, which stipulates that a case will be dismissed in six months or a year as long as no offenses are committed during that period.