Examining Appearance Rates in Civil and Criminal Summons Court in New York City

The Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA) allows police officers to issue a civil summons rather than a criminal court summons for five offenses: (1) public consumption of alcohol, (2) public urination, (3) littering, (4) unreasonable noise, and (5) NYC Park Rules offenses.  By moving enforcement of many of these offenses out of the criminal courts, policymakers sought to support more proportionate responses to these lower-level, non-violent offenses. CJRA was also intended to reduce the number of warrants issued for New Yorkers who failed to appear for a criminal summons, thereby reducing collateral consequences.  DCJ produced this report as part of an evaluation of CJRA that was funded by the NYC Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.

This research brief examines factors related to court appearance rates for the types of misconduct encompassed by New York City’s Criminal Justice Reform Act. DCJ’s research found that court appearance rates were similar in criminal and civil courts, post-CJRA implementation. Further, DCJ found that while there was some variation in appearance rate by demographics, type of misconduct, and neighborhood characteristics, these factors explain very little of the variability in court appearance and further research is needed to fully understand what drives failures to appear in court.

Key Findings:

  • Court appearance rates were similar in criminal court (47%) and civil court (45%) post-implementation of CJRA.
  • In both courts, appearance rates were highest for summonses issued for unreasonable noise and parks offenses, and lowest for littering.
  • In both courts, appearance rates were higher for 16-17-year-olds, lower for individuals who live in neighborhoods with greater economic disadvantage, and lower for individuals who live in the borough that the summons was issued.
  • Demographics, type of misconduct, and geographic factors explain very little variability in court appearance rates (3-4%).