The movement to stop prosecuting subway fare-beaters, announced recently by the Manhattan district attorney and soon to be adopted in Brooklyn, must be expanded citywide, public defenders argue.
The Legal Aid Society, the Bronx Defenders, Queens Law Associates and other groups have joined efforts to pressure prosecutors in Queens and the Bronx to get onboard with the cause, which advocates say will help unclog the courts.
Advocates say arresting turnstile jumpers unfairly disadvantages the city’s poor population.
“Fare evasion is the ultimate crime of poverty in New York City, yet the Queens and Bronx district attorneys continue to prosecute our clients and others for it,” Tina Luongo, head of Legal Aid’s criminal practice, said in a statement.
Luongo stressed that an arrest for fare evasion could mean the threat of deportation for undocumented immigrants.
“We need uniformity citywide on this issue from all local DAs, especially in the era of Trump where a theft of services conviction could lead to removal proceedings,” the lawyer added.
Alice Fontier, director of the Bronx Defenders’ criminal practice, said the cost of a subway swipe is a real hurdle for people who suffer the consequence of a turnstile jumping arrest.
“When you have entire households in the South Bronx surviving on less than $10,000 a year, the real crime is to continue punishing people who can’t afford a MetroCard,” Fontier said.
“Policies like this only compound poverty and structural inequalities in New York City,” she added.
Manhattan DA Cy Vance Jr. announced on June 30 that beginning in September, theft of services cases would not be prosecuted in the borough in most scenarios.
First-time offenders are expected to get a civil summons to be handled through the MTA, while recidivists will get desk appearance tickets and an opportunity to complete a diversion program prior to their court date.
A spokeswoman for Queens DA Richard Brown said his office is still evaluating its options.
“No decision has been made at this time as we are still evaluating the proposal, in addition to comparing the NYPD and transit programs where administrative summonses are issued for transit adjudication,” the official said.
The Bronx DA’s office is also still considering its options. District Attorney Darcel Clark said in a statement that her office was “reviewing the Manhattan DA’s office’s newly announced policy regarding subway-related theft of services offenses,” and that there were discussions on how to “expand diversion for low level crimes like transit offenses without compromising public safety.”