2017-06-07 / Features

Low-Level Offenders Will Soon Be Heard By OATH

BY RICHARD GENTILVISO

As a result of legislation passed by the City Council in May, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) will soon hear certain low-level, nonviolent quality of life offenses.

OATH, an independent administrative law court with a mission to “provide fair and timely hearings and trials,” will handle violations of rules regarding open container of alcohol, city parks, littering, public urination and unreasonable noise. The upcoming changes, as specified under the Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2016, were reviewed by Kieran P. Holohan, Ombudsperson Pro Se Clerk for OATH at the May 23 meeting of the 114th Precinct Community Council. The new legislation is expected to send more than 100,000 cases to OATH rather than to criminal court. Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the bill into law almost a year ago.

“OATH is the largest administrative court,” said Holohan, holding hearings for 800,000 cases annually, including city health, consumer, taxi and limousine and environmental control violations.

In 2015, NYPD issued more than 150,000 criminal summonses for violations of open container of alcohol, park rules (being in a park after hours, disobeying signage), littering, public urination and unreasonable noise.

Currently, NYPD has three law enforcement options. Arrest, issue a desk appearance ticket, or write a criminal summons. Holohan said OATH provides a fourth option that will hold people found rightfully in violation accountable, but without a permanent criminal record

“The new legislation will allow the NYPD to use the full range of enforcement tools we currently have to address these offenses, while still providing us with the option to issue a civil summons instead of a criminal summons or arrest in appropriate circumstances,” said former NYPD Commissioner William Bratton.

The bill requires the NYPD to issue guidance to officers on when to use the criminal and when to use the civil summons enforcement option for low-level offenses such as littering, public urination, parks offenses and unreasonable noise.

“My officers are undergoing command training,” said Deputy Inspector Peter Fortune, Commanding Officer of the 114th Precinct.

OATH is also authorized by the legislation to offer the option of community service in lieu of paying a civil penalty. In addition, OATH administrative law judges and hearing officers can dismiss civil summonses after considering specified factors.

“As the city’s central independent administrative court, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings looks forward to being a court that will administer the hearings on some of these new civil summonses,” said Fidel Del Valle, OATH’s Chief Administrative Law Judge.

From 2003 to 2013 almost two-thirds of cases involving the above offenses were dismissed and only 21% were found guilty with the result almost always a fine, according to the City Council. In addition, between 40% and 50% of people with summonses for offenses like open container and parks violations missed their court dates and ended up with an open warrant for their arrest.

If you do not appear for an OATH hearing the result is a default, automatic violation and a default penalty.

“A minor, nonviolent act of poor judgment should not determine one’s destiny,” said Mayor de Blasio at the bill signing on June 13, 2016. “Today, we are making sure that key low-level offenses are enforced appropriately – without sacrificing our city’s quality of life or our residents’ safety.”

The new legislation is expected to save 10,000 people per year from a permanent criminal record and avoid more than 50,000 arrest warrants every year.

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