“The police won’t police what prosecutors won’t prosecute.”
Prosecutors are responsible for ensuring the fairness, integrity, and efficiency of our criminal justice system. People won’t be arrested for offenses the DA won’t charge; won’t sit in jail for lack of bail money the DA doesn’t ask for; won’t be treated as an adult by a DA who fully embraces the letter and spirit of New York’s new “Raise the Age” law; won’t face prison instead of treatment for conduct driven by a substance abuse addiction or mental illness that a DA treats as such; won’t wait endlessly for their day in court on a case the DA is promptly ready to try; won’t plead guilty to a crime they didn’t commit because the DA was up front with the evidence against them; won’t be deported for pleading guilty to an offense that a DA chose to charge in a non-deportable way; won’t be convicted using junk science that a DA won’t try to admit into court; and won’t spend years in jail for a crime they didn’t commit because the DA has a dedicated wrongful conviction review unit.
Our office won’t prosecute certain low-level, nonviolent offenses where there are better and fairer alternatives, because criminal punishment for these offenses fall overwhelmingly on people of color and the desperately poor, who get a lifetime criminal record that inhibits their ability to get an education, a job, or housing — the New Jim Crow dies on our watch in Queens. Additionally, prosecuting these cases is a waste of time and resources that should be devoted to fighting real crime.
The offenses we won’t prosecute include smoking or possessing marijuana for recreational use; theft of services (turnstile jumping), which allows for the issuance of a civil summons; drug possession and sales resulting from predatory undercover buy and bust operations that prey on people’s addictions; driving on a suspended license due to failure to pay fines and fees to the DMV; possessing so-called gravity knives commonly used by working people without evidence of an intent to cause harm; trespass upon premises against the homeless seeking shelter, or against residents and legitimate visitors in NYCHA buildings; bail jumping for people with legitimate health, family or work related reasons for missing a court appearance; burglary instead of larceny where a theft occurs in the common area of a building; scuffles, minor property damage and other offenses involving young people at schools that only reinforce the school-to-prison pipeline, and that are better handled within the school setting; and any case relying on the testimony of police officers with a prior history of perjury or dishonesty.
We’ll also avoid over-charging for offenses, so the intent of the criminal laws aren’t perverted to squeeze people into pleading guilty beyond the limits of their real culpability, such as when Kalief Browder allegedly stole a backback from someone and was charged with second degree robbery (a designated “violent” C felony with a minimum sentence of three-and-a-half years), and spent three years in Rikers until his case was dismissed.
We won’t ask for cash bail or bond, where people end up sitting on Rikers Island, at extraordinary cost to taxpayers, for want of a few hundred or a few thousand dollars, or are exploited by the predatory bail bond industry; we won’t treat juveniles as adults, by exercising the fullest discretion allowed under New York’s new “Raise the Age” law, which finally brought our state in line with the rest of the country in recognizing that 16- and 17-year-olds aren’t as culpable as adults, and shouldn’t be punished in adult jails; we won’t unreasonably refuse access to drug treatment, mental health, human trafficking, veterans, or other specialty courts that focus on solving the drivers of a person’s misconduct and breaking the cycle of recidivism, and that properly view each person’s culpability through the lens of their individual circumstances; we won’t ignore a defendant’s risk of deportation, where in the age of Donald Trump every possible means is being used to deport even nonviolent New Yorkers with no prior criminal convictions who contribute to our economy and the social fabric that makes this the greatest City in the world; we won’t game New York’s speedy trial statute by abusing the so-called “ready rule,” which allows prosecutors to start and stop the state’s “speedy trial” clock by going back and forth on declaring their readiness to proceed to trial, and endlessly delays justice for defendants, victims, witnesses and the public at large; we won’t force defendants into “trial by ambush,” whereby defense counsel has to wait until the eve of trial to access critical evidence, if it’s disclosed at all, including police reports and witness statements, and we will implement true open-file discovery, whereby prosecutors turn over all discovery material at the earliest possible time — and not just material that in the prosecutor’s judgment exculpates a defendant or impeaches the credibility of a prosecution witness – so that sensible and informed plea decisions can be made and wrongful convictions avoided; we won’t use junk science or discredited witness identification techniques to convict defendants, for if nothing else every wrongful conviction means a real criminal roams the streets to strike again; we won’t request sentences without a full and public accounting of the costs and benefits – to the victims, the taxpayers, and the defendant.
And we will enforce these norms by reversing the traditional incentives that drive prosecutorial decision-making, instead rewarding diversion placement rates over conviction rates, fair charging over pleas secured, and timely discovery over years of incarceration secured.
Instead of being driven by the cases police choose to bring to us, we will comprehensively promote women’s safety, by taking seriously evidence of sexual assault, internet misogyny, human trafficking, interference with access to reproductive health services, and domestic violence, and developing proactive crime prevention strategies to address these scourges; take wage theft seriously, by dedicating a unit to combat the rampant stealing of workers’ hard-earned salaries by failing to pay minimum wage, ignoring overtime pay, requiring kickbacks to work, and other schemes that cheat working New Yorkers out of hundreds of millions of dollars a year; protect workers from injury, by taking seriously the hazardous and often deadly jobsite conditions that kill an average of twenty workers a year in the five boroughs, and seriously injure hundreds more, and hold willfully irresponsible contractors responsible; defend homeowners and tenants cheated out of their homes by conniving hucksters and unethical developers, and NYCHA residents made to endure health-endangering exposure to lead paint and toxic mold; stand up for victims of police misconduct, whether it’s excessive force, the fabrication of evidence, or perjury on the witness stand; offer meaningful warrant clearing opportunities, so the backlog of hundreds of thousands of outstanding warrants for petty violations and infractions going back years can be responsibly cleared, and people won’t be arrested and detained years later for forgetting a court appearance; keep immigrants from being preyed upon, by focusing on their vulnerabilities to immigration fraud scams, vigorously pursuing U-Visas for victims and witnesses of crime, and prosecuting those who exploit immigrants’ risk of deportation for material gain; maintain a dedicated wrongful conviction integrity unit, where the wrongfully convicted and their lawyers can get the focused and skilled attention necessary to undo the all too common tragedy of an innocent person sitting in prison for a crime they didn’t commit; support reentry efforts, by cooperating with requests to seal prior convictions as permitted by law, obtain certificates of relief from automatic disqualification for employment or licenses; and promote transparency and accountability, by regularly releasing data on intake, charges, pleas, prosecutions, sentencing, and demographics, so the public, policymakers, and scholars can analyze and understand the office’s policies and outcomes.