Trends in Issuance of Criminal Summonses in New York City, 2003–2019

In this report, the Data Collaborative for Justice (DCJ) examines how criminal summons issuance and outcomes have changed in New York City from 2003 to 2019, adding six years of data to update DCJ’s prior report on criminal summons enforcement between 2003 and 2013. This new report builds on DCJ’s prior research by: (1) examining trends in criminal summons issuance and outcomes within the context of significant policy reforms including the implementation of the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA) and changes in marijuana enforcement; (2) assessing trends in summonses by charge type, demographics, borough, warrant issuance, and dispositions; and (3) focusing on the most recent year of data (2019) to help the public and policymakers assess recent enforcement of criminal summonses and identify opportunities for further reform.

Key Findings:

  • Overall: Criminal summons issuance has declined dramatically (from 541,862 summonses in 2003 to 72,314 in 2019), an 87% decline.
    • Overall enforcement: Much of the decline in criminal summons issuance is likely the result of the Criminal Justice Reform Act.
    • In the 2.5 years after implementation of the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA), criminal summons issuance declined by 71% compared to the prior 2.5 years (from 757,669 criminal summonses issued to 214,258).
  • Racial disparities: In 2019, Black people accounted for the largest proportion of the most commonly issued summonses; Marijuana possession (45.5%), violations of transit authority rules such as turnstile jumping (42.6%), disorderly conduct (42.0%), and public consumption of alcohol (41.2%).
  • Significant demographics: In 2019, young people were most likely to be issued a criminal summons.
    • The three youngest age groups (16-17, 18-20, 21-24) received a larger number of criminal summons than older age groups, most frequently for disorderly conduct and marijuana possession.
  • Geography: Between 2003 and 2019, the Bronx and Manhattan had the highest rates of summons issuance and in 2019, two precincts in the Bronx, the 44th and 40th precincts, issued the largest number of criminal summonses.
    • These two precincts accounted for 11% of all summonses issued in 2019. A significant proportion of the most commonly enforced summons were issued in the Bronx — public consumption of alcohol (39.8%), violations of transit authority rules (39.7%), disorderly conduct (36.1%), and marijuana possession (33.5%).
  • Criminal summons by charge type: criminal summons for marijuana possession increased over time, and marijuana possession was the most frequent charge in 2019.
    • Although public consumption of alcohol was the most frequently issued criminal summons over the 17-year study period, it declined by 96% during this time (from 106,500 summonses in 2003 to 3,878 in 2019) and was replaced by marijuana possession as the most frequently issued criminal summons in 2019.
    • The increase in marijuana possession summonses was likely a result of a series of reforms aimed at reducing the number of custodial arrests for marijuana (See pg. 3 of the report, “Policy Changes Impacting Criminal Summonses,” for additional details).
  • Criminal summons and warrant issuance: Warrants associated with people not showing up to court for their criminal summons declined dramatically over time but almost 700,000 warrants remain open, and in 2019, warrants were most frequently issued in cases involving marijuana possession.
    •  From 2003 to 2019, a total of 2,622,168 warrants were issued (in 37% of summons). The number of warrants issued each year decreased by 88%, from 192,117 warrants issued in 2003 to 23,454 warrants issued in 2019. In 2019, the greatest number (4,229) and proportion (18%) of warrants issued were for marijuana possession. Currently, almost 700,000 of the warrants accumulated between 2003 and 2019 remain open.