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Nassau DA Madeline Singas drops scores of marijuana, prostitution cases due to recent law changes

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas speaks at

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas speaks at a news conference in Mineola in early March. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas on Thursday said she will dismiss more than 1,000 warrants on marijuana and prostitution-related charges following the state's recent legalization of recreational marijuana and the repeal of a low-level prostitution law.

The brief virtual proceeding in Nassau District Court, during which 1,169 arrest or bench warrants were "administratively vacated," is expected to play out in courtrooms across the state as its 62 counties work to comply with the newly passed marijuana law.

"We began to review certain outstanding warrants months ago because outstanding warrants can impact a person’s ability to work or secure housing if they appear during a background check," Singas said in a statement. "By removing this obstacle, people can resume their lives without worrying about potential repercussions."

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last month signed legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana, though the law won’t take effect until September 2022.

The new law would expunge criminal records for past marijuana possession convictions, allow limited home growth of cannabis and pave the way for one of the largest state-regulated marijuana markets in the nation.

It will also allow possession outside the home of up to 3 ounces of marijuana.

Marijuana legalization is projected to raise some $350 million in annual revenues, with the profits slated to be divided for education funding, drug treatment and to a community grant fund to reinvest in areas impacted by the historical unequal enforcement of drug laws.

Nassau Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Dellinger, appearing in court on behalf of Singas, said of the 1,169 cases currently in active arrest or bench warrant status, 892 are stand-alone marijuana possession offenses that "must be vacated and eventually dismissed due to the recent changes in the law."

Dellinger said the remaining 277 cases involve prostitution charges "some of which are older than 40 years old." Dellinger noted that the State Legislature had also repealed the statute of loitering for the purposes of engaging in prostitution, a violation, last month.

"While that statutory change does not impact these charges, in the interest of justice, we are seeking to have the warrants on these standalone prostitution offenses vacated in anticipation of their eventual dismissal in the near future."

Timothy Naples, a Legal Aid Society attorney appearing on behalf of the defendants, said: "We join the people's application in all respects."

Nassau District Court Supervising Judge Elizabeth Fox-McDonough signed off on the request.

The cases will eventually be dismissed, Singas said.

"The District Attorney’s office has sought the assistance of the courts and defense bar to bring warrant-clearing events to local communities, and we look forward to hosting these events in the near future when our partners join us," Singas said.

In Suffolk, the district attorney's office is in the process of dismissing approximately 1,633 marijuana charges and in the coming weeks plans to move to dismiss another 600 to 700 marijuana charges that were filed in conjunction with other offenses, an official said.

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