Making the summons process easier to understand and navigate will change how nearly half of the criminal court cases are processed in New York City.
- While the number of summonses issued in 2014 was down 35 percent from its peak in 2009, the total number of summonses issued last year was roughly equal to the number of arrests.
- Although half of all criminal court cases involve summonses, only about a quarter of the summonses issued last year resulted in a conviction. Nearly four in ten summonses issued resulted in a warrant for failure to appear in court, which may affect the likelihood of future detention.
Immediate reforms will clarify the time, date, and location of court appearances and provide a wider window within which to satisfy the summons. This will make the summons process more transparent and improve the overall quality of justice.
Steps to ensure that people who receive a summons appear in court include:
- A redesigned summons form that makes the date of appearance easier to understand. The City and courts worked with ideas42, a non-profit behavioral design lab, to redesign the summons form making information easier to understand in order to better prompt people to return to court. Additionally, the new form will collect individuals' phone numbers and include a phone number and website where recipients can access their cases, view when their court appearance is scheduled, and determine whether they have outstanding warrants. The website will also have translated copies of the summons form. The new form will be operational this summer. A comparison of the old form and the new form, and additional information about the science driving these changes, is available above. This effort was funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.
- A reminder system to ensure defendants appear in court. The courts will test a number of different reminders citywide during the fall of 2015, using both robocalls and text messages. The results of this pilot will be carefully examined and the most effective method will be scaled up citywide.
- Flexible appearance date and night court. Sometimes people who want to make their court appearances and resolve their cases sometimes have work, family or other life conflicts with their court dates. Beginning with a pilot in Manhattan North, individuals who have received summonses will be permitted to appear any time a week in advance of their court appearance. The court will also be open until 8:00 p.m. on Tuesdays. If these pilots increase court appearances, the programs will be scaled up citywide.
Steps to enhance transparency and improve the quality of justice in summons court include:
- Publicly available quarterly data. Four times a year, the City will post data showing summons activity broken down by charge and precinct, allowing access to enforcement trends on the neighborhood level. Going forward, the police department's annual report will also include summons activity with details such as the location at which a summons is issued and the race of the recipient. Explore this data.
- Real-time, electronic access to case files. Since April 2015, the Court has been providing defense attorneys with tablets that provide them with all of the factual allegations docketed for that day so they can better advise their clients and quicken the adjudication process.
- Online payment of fines. Beginning this summer, the courts will implement a new process permitting people convicted of summons offenses to pay fines online.
- Training on collateral consequences for court-appointed attorneys and Judicial Hearing Officers. Since late March 2015, court-appointed attorneys and Judicial Hearing Officers have been trained in how to better advise clients about the collateral consequences associated with summonses.