Maybe you’ve jaywalked, smoked a little marijuana or had to pop-a-squat behind a parked car Friday night because you really had to pee. We’ve all broken some laws, but New Yorkers who are guilty of subway fare evasion won’t be arrested under a policy change in the Manhattan DA's office.
Turnstile jumping is relatively harmless, but it is considered Theft of Services under the New York Penal Code and led to nearly 10,000 arrests in 2016.
In September, the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. will no longer prosecute many who would be busted trying to ride the rails for free. Police officers who catch a fare skipper will issue summonses instead of making an arrest and offer "pre-arraignment diversion" and a desk appearance for those who do end up being arrested.
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If those individuals successfully complete the terms of a diversion program, the DA will decline to prosecute the case, the turnstile hopper will need not appear in court, and the record will be sealed, according to the office.
Those who pose a threat to “public safety” will still be prosecuted.
"The decision by Manhattan DA Vance to end criminal prosecution of fare evasion in Manhattan is an important step forward to reforming our criminal justice system,” Council Member Rory I. Lancman said. “For too long, prosecution of fare evasion as a crime has disproportionately impacted people of color, bogged down our courts, and even put immigrants at risk of deportation.
“Diverting fare evasion cases away from the criminal justice system is a smart and sensible policy that will ensure offenders are held accountable fairly, while not saddling people with a lifetime criminal record or left languishing in custody.
The DA's goal is to reduce the number of misdemeanor and violation arrests in Manhattan to 50,000 in 2017 (the borough saw more than 93,000 such arrests in 2009).
"Absent a demonstrated public safety risk, criminally prosecuting New Yorkers accused of these offenses does not make us safer,” Vance said.
This doesn’t mean New Yorkers should start stretching out to clear turnstiles like hurdles anytime they have somewhere to go. The DA’s office said it is hoping to keep the city’s most vulnerable citizen out of the system.
If someone asks you for a swipe and you have a 30-day MetroCard, go ahead. It’s legal.
Correction: This article was corrected to state that the change is a new policy in the Manhattan DA's office, not a change to the penal code, as previously written. The penal code is under state jurisdiction. The decision not to criminally prosecute fare evasion applies only to the jurisdiction of the Manhattan DA.