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Manhattan DA's office drops more than 3,000 open marijuana cases (reuters.com)
431 points by DoreenMichele on Sept 12, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 83 comments

This is likely stemming at least in part from Cynthia Nixon's strong run for the Democratic nomination for governor of New York. She is running to the left of the current governor, Andrew Cuomo (Mario Cuomo's son), and has been making these sorts of outdated drug charges an issue.

Cuomo's polling numbers are up today but even last week he was 40 points ahead.

She hasn't got a snowball's chance in hell of winning this primary.

I agree (and have advised friends to make money on PredictIt soaking up the liquidity from people emotionally investing in her chances).

However, that's often not the point. If you are progressive (conservative) there is a strong incentive to challenge incumbents on your own side because any impact you have on the ideas discussed is likely to work in your favor; and indeed it's possible the incumbent agrees with you on those issues but just wants political cover to acquiesce. So I'm not really troubled if Cuomo happens to discover a more progressive streak or makes some concessions even though he's going to pulverize her come polling day.

I think it would be accurate to say that Nixon has run an unusually strong campaign and done an unusually good job of calling attention to real issues, even knowing she has no chance of winning and isn't a serious candidate by that standard.

[Note: I am not a resident of NY State and can't legally vote in the state I live in.]

Precisely. Her value stems from her efforts to shift the Overton window, not from the chance she will win.

I have not found much opportunity on PredictIt to exploit that sort of thing. Seems like most people there attempt to make rational investments.

You need at least a 3x return opportunity to make it worth the time. They charge a 10% vig and a processing fee to draw your winnings, plus you get taxed as gambling winnings.

> Cuomo's polling numbers are up today but even last week he was 40 points ahead.

I mean Joe Crowley would have probably been 40 points ahead if that race had been polled. I realize it's not the same, but state polls in midterm primaries must have an enormous margin of error.

The NYT actually did a great writeup of this the other day: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/us/politics/primary-elect...


- Pollsters often use party allegiance to sanity check their results, but that's irrelevant in a primary

- No one really pays attention to a primary early on (unlike presidential campaigns, which start earlier and earlier every cycle), so early polling is not representative of final voting

- Pollsters have to guesstimate how many voters of a certain type will show up at the polls, but nonpresidential primaries are super low turnout historically especially in noncompetitive areas, and some disgruntled voters for insurgent campaigns can upset this prediction

- Pollsters have a hard time reaching young people and minorities, who are usually not on landlines and are less likely pick up numbers from strangers

She's not going to win, but Cuomo is going to lose reelection. He's so thoroughly fucked up the subway he's lost NYC.

God I hope so. I'm in for Larry Sharpe all the way.

One can only hope. Unfortunately the NYC mentality is more excited to throw money at the dumpster fire and complain endlessly than accept that it needs to be starved and restructured.

Yes, because nothing says "fix public transit" like electing a Libertarian.

Even in Nixon stays on the ballot Cuomo is still going to win.

Hope your right. It’s time for him to go.

I think the majority like the idea but surprised there isn't a financial effort from the prison and associated industries to fight the idea. If it works though, it's a huge win for getting minor offenders out of concrete cages.

Goverment officials can just ignore financial efforts of private companies, when their reelection campaign is not dependent on that money. If by fighting a private company, you make voters happy then those votes directly gotten can be worth more than any votes that added campaign funds would possibly give.

> Goverment officials can just ignore financial efforts of private companies, when their reelection campaign is not dependent on that money.

I'm not sure what you mean. Isn't the whole problem that winning elections is heavily dependent on money?

heavily dependent

So even you concede that it's not totally dependent. Boiling elections down to one problem is a gross oversimplification. Yeah you need money, but you also need a platform people want to vote for. You need good faith with your electorate.

What good is cash if you've alienated your base? What good is cash if you've already got 32x more than your opponent (Cuomo's $16MM to Nixon's $500k)[0]?

Right now, Cuomo's at a greater risk losing progressive votes than running out of money. The memories of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez v Joe Crowley are still fresh in everyone's mind. Money didn't help Crowley there...

0 - https://nypost.com/2018/09/05/cuomo-spent-8-million-in-three...

In a one party state like NY all you have to do is win the primary.

Agreed about one party election districts (statewide or otherwise), but winning the primary still depends on money. It's an interesting question about whether it depends on money more or less than in districts decided by the general election.

Many fewer people vote in the primary, but perhaps those people are harder to reach, or perhaps who shows up depends heavily on money (or perhaps something else).

Also, I observe that politicians want money for more than their elections. They provide funds from their treasure chest to other politicians and groups. I wonder how much that use of money affects their fundraising and money's influence on them. (I think it seems like a source of corruption, and that money donated for the election should be spent on it or returned.)

No. The difference is that NY Dem primary voters are over 50% in NYC, NY state voters are a greater portion in the general election.

So running too left can win you the primary but lose the general.

Cuomo is trying to move left but not too left to leave him vulnerable to a state challenge

That's not at all what happens in reality.

dems probably "asked" them on behalf of cuomo not to fight it

That’s not a really accurate read of how NY/NYC politics works. Manhattan DA’s office is more symbiotic with the mayor, and hasn’t traditionally been really defined in relationship to Albany. With that said the general progressive climate is certainly relevant, ranging from Nixon to Ocasio to Teachout.

I applaud the move. Curious that these cases stretch as far back as 1978, isn't there a statute of limitations for this sort of charge? If so, I would have expected the oldest to have been closed automatically decades ago.

The statute of limitation applies to the time between the moment the crime was committed and the moment charges are filed. If charges were filled and warrants were issued in 1978 but the "fugitive" was not caught, the statute of limitation won't apply, and the suspect could still be arrested now.

Aha, I didn't realize that statue of limitations only limited charging. Clearly I should have paid more attention in social studies. :P

Yeah, far too often, prosecutors try to cut a name for themselves by vigorously prosecuting, rather than by vigorously refusing to prosecute, so this is a refreshing turn.

From a systems point of view, I'm uncomfortable with the idea of electing prosecutors for this reason -- it might be better if they were appointed and held to basic broad metrics like violent crime rates and quality of life changes versus costs of incarceration. In fact, it might be better if there was less media attention placed on prosecutors in general, as this is often a stepping stone to other types of political office. I'd even go so far as to ban them from higher office for a period of time after their term is up. It just seems like the pursuit of justice is the last thing you want to politicize, and if it wasn't politicized, but there was an emphasis on efficiency, we would never have spent so much money on low level crimes in the first place.

> I applaud the move. Curious that these cases stretch as far back as 1978, isn't there a statute of limitations for this sort of charge?

The statute of limitations runs from the date of the alleged offense to when charges are filed; cases may not be resolved timely after charges are filed, e.g., if a defendant flees and prevents the case from proceeding to trial.

I believe OP was confusing real life for Grand Theft Auto, where after an amount of time on the run, the cops stop looking for you.

You know, I'm pretty sure they have stopped looking for D. B. Cooper.

If you notice the article refers only to cases where there are warrants. So odds are someone who was arrested in 1972 for marijuana bonded out and never appeared for court. The court issues a warrant for failure to appear and the case is essentially suspended until the warrant is served and defendant brought before the court.

These kinds of things occurred from time to time in large waves like this. It’s usually a win for all parties, DA/prosecutors clear cases, judges get old cases off their docks, Police close these old warrants, some politician somewhere takes credit...the real irony some of these defendants will never know the difference.

Meanwhile in Malaysia a 29 year old father to be has been sentenced to hang. https://www.change.org/p/jabatan-peguam-negara-free-muhammad...

Haven't translated the Malay but since you speak Engris want to give us some details surrounding the case?

There is an English translation at the middle of the change.org page.

When I was in Msia I talked with our younger guide about it. He was well aware the risk was not worth it. I was a little surprised at how strictly treated drugs.

There is no reason to lay your life on the line for pot. It’s ridiculous to hang someone for that. Too bad people can’t claim it’s even mildly addictive after years and years of saying it isn’t.

Punishment and crime obviously don’t fit. But... He chose to have illegal drugs in his country, he wasn’t framed. He knew how illegal it was.

> He knew how illegal it was.

Oh yes the police had to arrest him. The judges just apply the law anyway. And the executioners hanging him will be following orders. Looks like the only guy left to be be blamed here is the guy, because he had the choice, didn't he?

Let's turn this around!

Everyone of those involved knows what that law does. All of them could have walked away and said: "Fuck that law, I'm not enforcing it." But they chose to enforce it.

Unjustifiable violence must never be blamed on the victim. Especially if perpetrated by a government.

> Everyone of those involved knows what that law does. All of them could have walked away and said: "Fuck that law, I'm not enforcing it."

You'd like to think. But then those people would hang too. Sure if life in Malaysia were completely horrible there might eventually be a revolution all the way up the chain of command, but it's not. They live by laws that were enacted in a purportedly representative system of government.

When travelling, you need to know and take seriously the local laws and customs. Your naively idealistic view of "fuck that" won't save you.

> But then those people would hang too.

I don't believe it.

Are you saying people in Malaysia are hanged over quitting their jobs? That would truly be horrible.

Edit: At no point did I advise going against the law of a country. I'm just putting the blame where it belongs.

>Oh yes the police had to arrest him.

Yea, I mean, a tenant of a just society is equal enforcement of the law.

>All of them could have walked away and said: "Fuck that law, I'm not enforcing it."

That's not a goal. That's a serious problem. Even if you think the law is unjust. You need to change the law, you can't just not enforce it.

You're arguing for something you would be horrified to have.

I'd be surprised if that law in Malaysia was applied in a way approaching equal treatment. But sure, let's talk in the abstract: Even if a thousand people have been hanged: If we can spare one, we must do so! One injustice must not beget another in the name of equality.

And yes selective enforcement is a problem. But I want the people in charge to not enforce that law at all: They must refuse to arrest, judge, or kill based on that law. Which is not selective enforcement. They don't choose whom to apply it to, they just don't apply it at all. Which means everybody is treated equally with regard to that law.

Our history is full of instances where a law was not enforced by those in charge. In some instances we say that not enforcing it was wrong (say, corruption) in others we say that they did right (say, race discrimination). This often set a precedent to changing the law.

Ideally it sure would have been nice if a bad law had never been enacted or if it had been abolished when it soured. But what if it didn't? I'm talking about that. Real societies where bad laws do real damage.

I'm from Wisconsin.... I reallly wish someone would get on the ball legalizing it here.

Vote for those who advocate for it. Take your friends and family to the polls with you.

If you have extra money, donate to those politicians. Even a $10 donation is helpful.

Or move to where it's legal, if it's that important to you.

Medical marijuana is a part of Tony Evers official agenda[0], so we definitely have the Democratic party leader advocating for it. I think it would be difficult without some Democratic control of the statehouses, but I think there's a strong fiscal argument to be made as well, so I wouldn't rule it out.

[0]https://tonyevers.com/plan/ (ctrl-f marijuana)

It’s coming.

There is no future for prohibition of cannabis.

That won't happen because of Chicago. Just drive to CO, fill your trunk with Boulder Bars, and avoid states with harsher penalties on the blissful ride home.

Illinois just legalized medical marijuana as an alternative to opioid prescriptions.

Will the DA’s office work to overturn previous convictions people are currently serving time for? Not meant to undermine this incredibly progressive action.

That would be a far greater thing. It's good that they're dropping open cases, and good that the city is deprioritizing marijuana offenses in general, and administratively declaring that further charges for minor possession shouldn't be filed.

It's barely scratching the surface of justice reform, however. The laws still remain on the books; they're just selectively choosing not to enforce them at the moment. More importantly, they're doing nothing to reverse the thousands (possibly millions) of prior convictions.

This is rewarding the people who skipped out on facing prosecution. It's a pragmatic move, and a tiny step in the right direction, but the people most hurt by these insane laws are the ones who did the right thing, faced their charges, and are now sitting in jail or had their lives damaged in ways small and large. They deserve relief far more than the people who managed to avoid getting convicted in the first place.

> this incredibly progressive action

..that never would've happened if Cuomo didn't feel real heat from Cynthia Nixon.

A complete miss. The Mayor and Council have been moving in the direction of ceasing to prosecute lesser crimes for several years. But more importantly the DA is an elected position. Nixon and Cuomo's drama is at the state level and pretty far removed. NYS hasn't legalized cannabis.


Huh? This doesn't have anything to do with Cuomo. This is the New York County (Manhattan) DA, who is himself an elected official.

People are so incredibly desperate to attribute things to people who haven't really done anything. I hate Cuomo too, but I'm not going to descend into nonsense peddling in order to fight him. It only serves to undermine any actual effort of resistance to the man.

> People are so incredibly desperate to attribute things to people who haven't really done anything. I hate Cuomo too, but I'm not going to descend into nonsense peddling in order to fight him. It only serves to undermine any actual effort of resistance to the man.

The New York State political machine is incredibly corrupt and interconnected. And Cuomo himself is more powerful and influential at all levels of state government (which includes country-level positions) than any governor since, well, his father. It's really not unreasonable to suspect he had a hand in this.

What Cuomo wants, Cuomo gets.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

These aren't extraordinary claims by any means. Historically New York politics have been exceptionally corrupt.

Poor Galileo.

maybe this is true, maybe not. But polls show he is up 40 points on her[0]. Maybe internal polling shows a different race, but not clear to me from publicly available information that he is feeling "real heat".


> maybe this is true, maybe not. But polls show he is up 40 points on her[0]. Maybe internal polling shows a different race, but not clear to me from publicly available information that he is feeling "real heat".

He's trying to run up the score to make it look like he has a mandate. If Nixon gets anything close to what Teachout got four years ago, it'll look bad for his 2020 presidential run.

Are you asserting Cuomo had some influence on the Manhattan DA's decision? Can you point to a reference?

No I can't. You're probably right and it's a complete coincidence this is happening the day before the primary.

The article states that the DA's action "does not apply to any cases where a defendant was convicted"

I’m aware of that. I’m curious if further action can be taken.

It’s insufficient that these proceedings are dropped when others will continue to serve out sentences for equivalent crimes.

I do agree. But every day, decisions are made that result in no prosecution of charges against "guilty" people, while others may be in prison serving sentences for the same offense. We don't vacate convictions just because there's an example of another person who was charged but not prosecuted for the same thing.

In this case, where the DA has made a blanket pronouncement that the office is not going to prosecute minor drug possession charges, I think there is a stronger argument to apply that retroactively. It seems to me like the right thing to do. But that would need to be done by a judge or perhaps the governor, not the DA. And you'd have to look at each case. There are really very few people serving significant time for simple possession. There's usually large quantities, intent to distribute, weapons or violence, prior offenses, or some other aggravating factors.

The DA cannot do that AFAIK, unless the law changes.

The Governor could though.

I support dropping these cases, but it's a tough incentive that people who simply didn't show up for court are getting their case dropped, whereas people who got convicted will keep their convictions. I guess there is no totally clean way to make this transition and the sooner it happens the better.

You’re absolutely right to say that in an ideal world that would be a better option. But I can also see that freeing convicts from the prisons may be perceived way more negatively than this. Even though semantically there’s 0 difference.

You could also void old convictions on these charges. Won't undo the damage but will help.

Out of how many open cases total?

According to https://edition-m.cnn.com/2018/05/15/us/manhattan-marijuana-...

There's been 5,500 cases in 2017, which is apparently 85% decline compared to pre-2014. So 3k is just over half year's worth.

But that's combined with stopping the possession prosecution this year.

> Vance announced earlier this year that his office would no longer prosecute marijuana smoking and possession cases.

People who believe smoking marijuana shouldn't be illegal may agree with this, but the better path seems to be to change the law. Otherwise, we are letting prosecutors decide which laws will get prosecuted.

I'm not referring to selective prosecution based upon the merits of a case but a prosecutor who can decide to completely stop prosecuting theft, embezzlement, or murder. The end doesn't justify the means.

They have that power quite by design, I believe.

Ultimately, the voters decide. How long do you think a prosecutor who doesn’t try murder cases would last?

With all the case dropping one wonders if the court calendars are suddenly freeing up a lot of time to hear other cases. Is anyone tracking that?

> It does not apply to any cases where a defendant was convicted, or to more serious charges like selling marijuana.

Because selling weed would interfere with tax laws. DA just punting to save money so they can get themselves some new hemp money satchels for future convictions.

I wonder what the economic / race demographics of these cases are?

I wonder this too. I would want to explore a dataset regarding this. Maybe there should be a startup collecting/exploring data regarding social justice issues. Would be so much easier to make rational policies and convince the public that there exists a problem or vice versa

Now if we can get Larry Sharpe elected this year we may actually be able to have some pride in how our state is being administered.

great move. more money for real crime.

Perhaps you mean: more money to prosecute real crimes?


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