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Erie County DA moves to vacate warrants for low-level marijuana arrests


Fri, Feb 22nd 2019 04:45 pm

On Friday, Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn moved to vacate outstanding warrants stemming from the failure to appear in Buffalo City Court on violation and misdemeanor marijuana possession cases. This action effectively cleared the entire docket of warrants for low-level marijuana arrests in Buffalo City Court.

Flynn appeared before Buffalo City Court Judge Thomas P. Amodeo to vacate the warrants and dismiss the associated charges for 35 individuals who were charged with smoking or possessing marijuana. Amodeo granted the DA’s oral application to vacate the warrants and dismiss the associated charges.

Starting in early January, the Erie County DA’s office searched for active warrants in Buffalo City Court where the sole charge was a low-level possession marijuana offense. With the assistance of the office of court administration and the Buffalo City Court Clerk’s Office, it was determined there were 35 warrants issued between April 2009 and October 2018. The charges included criminal possession of marijuana in the fourth degree, a class “A” misdemeanor, criminal possession of marijuana in the fifth degree, a class “B” misdemeanor, and unlawful possession of marijuana, a violation.

At the 2019 State of the City address, Mayor Byron Brown announced he ordered the Buffalo Police Department to stop the enforcement of low-level marijuana offenses. Accordingly and in the interest of justice, Flynn sought to vacate these warrants and dismiss charges against those arrested for violation and misdemeanor marijuana charges.

Flynn plans to dismiss similar warrants throughout Erie County. He has directed his office to gather warrant data from the town courts where individuals have been charged only with violation or misdemeanor marijuana possession.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has declared the legalization of marijuana a legislative priority this year. It is still being discussed in Albany whether the legislation will include directives on vacating past marijuana convictions. Once a state law on recreational marijuana has been signed by the governor, Flynn will determine how to proceed in vacating low-level marijuana convictions.

“As legalization discussions continue in Albany, I am relieving a burden on those individuals who may have these charges hanging over their heads in the interest of justice,” Flynn said. “I do not believe people should find themselves in the criminal justice system and unable to apply for employment, student loans, or other services because of a low-level marijuana charge.”

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