“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.

The city has proven itself completely unwilling and unable to end discriminatory marijuana possession policing. Prosecutors...need to step in here because the situation is becoming intolerable.
-- Councilman Lancman

Every district attorney office in New York City should make clear that they don’t prosecute certain low-level, nonviolent offenses where there are better, fairer civil alternatives — like fare evasion and possession of small amounts of marijuana — because criminal punishment for these offenses fall overwhelmingly and disproportionately on people of color, and because prosecuting these cases is a damn waste of time and resources that should be devoted to fighting real crime; don’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; don’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; and don’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 properly view each person’s culpability through the lens of their individual circumstances.

Every district attorney office in New York City should make clear that they don’t ignore 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; don’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; don’t force defendants into “trial by ambush,” whereby defense counsel doesn’t have to wait to the eve of trial to have access to critical evidence, if they’re disclosed at all, including police reports and witness statements, so that sensible and informed plea decisions can be made and wrongful convictions avoided; and don’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.

Likewise, prosecutors should make clear that they 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; 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.

Previous Issue -- Detention Next Issue -- Incarceration