ThinkProgress: How Bronx Prosecutors Avert Any Challenge To Marijuana Stop-And-Frisk Arrests

In New York City, marijuana is the most common reason for arrest, even though only possession of marijuana in public view is a crime. A dramatic spike in these arrests has accompanied the rise of the New York Police Department’s controversial stop and frisk tactic, and an equally controversial reported tactic of considering the marijuana in “public view” once a suspect is ordered by police to take it out of a pocket. Almost all of these cases end in plea deals, and most who are not charged with anything else plead guilty to a non-criminal violation such as disorderly conduct, even where the evidence would have shown that suspects did nothing wrong at all. Even these plea deals come only after arrestees have been detained, often for 8 hours or overnight in jail, and sacrificed an additional day to return to court.

But those who dare to actually defend the charge in court – particularly in the Bronx — find that there is no place in the legal system for misdemeanor due process. After a two-plus-year trek through the legal system with 54 clients who challenged their marijuana arrests in the Bronx, nonprofit Bronx Defenders found that prosecutors use chronic delay and mandatory court appearances to effectively kill every marijuana possession defense attempt. Rather than accept a plea deal, these defendants pled innocent. They showed up to court. And then they showed up again, waiting full days in court behind hundreds of other defendants before being told that the prosecutor was “not ready.” Since Bronx Defenders began this process in July 2011, not one of the 54 marijuana defendants had a suppression hearing – the initial hearing at which the prosecutors are tasked with producing physical evidence of the alleged crime. Courts so clogged with delayed cases that they have become little more than “plea bargaining mills,” as the New York Times puts it, treat misdemeanors as a particular afterthought, with threats of overly punishing sentences lorded over clients to extract a guilty plea and plow through overwhelming caseloads. As a result, a study released Wednesday concludes, it was “virtually impossible … to effectively litigate the constitutionality of street-level police behavior.”…

Read full article by Nicole Flatow here