Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez vacated 262 warrants related to prostitution charges this week, aiming to avoid unnecessarily arresting sex trade workers for crimes that his office no longer prosecutes.
“These warrants have powerful negative consequences for the individual, and they undermine public safety,” Gonzalez said in a Friday press release. “Because someone with an open warrant is subject to arrest at any time, those engaged in the selling of sex are more likely to be driven underground and be less likely to report abuse or other crimes, which makes both them and others less safe.”
Kings County’s top cop stopped prosecuting prostitution charges last year, and has instead diverted the accused to support services, such as counseling, healthcare, addiction treatment, or immigration support.
“Vacating these warrants and dismissing these cases is consistent with my view that those who engage in these activities need to be offered assistance, not criminally prosecuted,” he said on Jan. 29.
Outstanding warrants can show up years after they’re issued when wanted persons apply for housing or job applications — holding back people’s chances of transitioning to a more stable life, the DA said.
The newly-vacated orders date back to 2012, and include 183 cases with a top count of prostitution, and 79 with loitering for the purposes of prostitution — both of which are misdemeanors under New York State law.
Gonzalez plans to soon dismiss 850 more warrants dating back to the 1970s, but they are archived and currently inaccessible due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He will also not prosecute any arrests police make on those warrants, he said.
The prosecutor also threw his support behind a current proposal in the state legislature to repeal the loitering crime, also known as the “Walking While Trans” ban due to law enforcement using it disproportionately to criminalize trans women, particularly those of color.
State lawmakers in 2019 tried to decriminalize prostitution entirely, but that bill never moved forward, so sex worker activists turned their focus to the loitering law first, Gay City News reported.
There are currently 25,575 convictions for the two offenses in Brooklyn dating back to 1975, and Gonzalez called on Albany lawmakers to introduce a second law change allowing local prosecutors to expunge the records en masse.
“I am asking the legislature to expunge past prostitution convictions so they will not hold people back from opportunities for a better future,” Gonzalez said.