Brooklyn DA to vacate more than 1,000 prostitution warrants

Brooklyn DA to vacate more than 1,000 prostitution warrants
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Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced Friday that he will move to vacate more than 1,000 bench warrants related to prostitution and loitering.

The district attorney's office said there were 262 warrants dating back to 2012 vacated this week, the first batch to be dismissed now that Gonzalez will decline to prosecute or dismiss cases on both charges. Another 850 warrants dating back several decades will be dismissed in the future, his office said. 

Over the past year, the district attorney's office has instead begun connecting individuals charged with prostitution to services like medical assistance, mental health or substance abuse therapy, children’s services or housing assistance.

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The initiative is a push to keep women and marginalized communities out of the judicial system in New York’s most populous borough, Gonzalez said.

“I decided to take this action for several reasons: first and most obviously, it doesn’t make sense for someone to have an outstanding warrant for something we no longer prosecute,” Gonzalez said in a statement.

“But beyond that, these warrants have powerful negative consequences for the individual, and they undermine public safety. Because someone with an open warrant is subject to arrest at any time, those engaged in the selling of sex are more likely to be driven underground and be less likely to report abuse or other crimes, which makes both them and others less safe."

An outstanding warrant could show up years later on a background check, he noted, potentially inhibiting someone’s ability to rent an apartment or get a job and blocking their path to a “more stable and less dangerous way of life.”

“To arrest a sex worker … and prosecute in the name of giving them assistance just isn’t right,” Gonzalez told BuzzFeed News. “Forcing people through the criminal justice system is not a way to get them help.”

Of the 262 warrants vacated this week, 183 pertain to cases with a top count of prostitution and 79 with loitering for the purposes of prostitution.

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The other 850 warrants, which date back to the 1970s, cannot be currently accessed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Gonzalez's office said those will be dismissed at the earliest possibility.

Gonzalez also called for changes at the state level to repeal current prostitution law and expunge old, related convictions — totaling more than 25,000 cases dating back to 1975.

He cited the “vagueness of the law, the stark racial inequalities in its enforcement, and the disproportionate harm that enforcement of the law has caused to vulnerable trans women in our community.”