- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - Some teenagers arrested on low-level charges may soon get their cases dropped without ever going to court, if they complete community service or educational programs, authorities said Tuesday.

Starting as soon as next month in two police precincts, 16- and 17-year-olds without prior arrests may get a chance to end shoplifting, graffiti-writing, trespassing and some other nonviolent misdemeanor cases before even getting arraigned, according to the Manhattan and Brooklyn district attorneys and a New York Police Department official.

The aim is to give teens guidance but spare them from court cases that often get dismissed anyway, and to conserve court and police resources. While the experimental initiative so far stands to affect only a fraction of cases, it expands on existing youth and adolescent court programs and follows recent changes to handling low-level marijuana arrests.

“How far will it go to create a climate of trust if a young person who has done nothing more serious than fail to pay a subway fare on a school day receives not a trip downtown and a docket number, but a real intervention in his life,” Manhattan DA Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in prepared remarks for a talk Tuesday.

In New York state, people 16 and older are charged as adults, not juveniles. Many minor misdemeanor cases ultimately get dismissed after arraignments and six months or longer of avoiding re-arrest. But in the meantime, defendants have court dates that can mean missing work or school, and they have an open criminal case that can pop up in background checks.

Under the new program, youths’ “contact with the criminal justice system, hopefully, will begin and end right with the precinct,” Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson said by phone.

Police officers in the test precincts, in Harlem and Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood, will flag potentially eligible cases for prosecutors to review, said Susan Herman, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner for collaborative programs. When prosecutors conclude cases are suitable and teens complete the program, prosecutors will close the case before it ever comes up in court.

The program could entail community service, observing a youth court session or counseling. In Brooklyn, it will take an afternoon, Thompson’s office said.

He expects a few dozen teens to qualify this year; Manhattan prosecutors didn’t have an estimate. Authorities hope to expand the initiative if it succeeds.

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Follow Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.

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