Queens, NY – Queens District Attorney-elect Melinda Katz has unveiled her plan to hold accused criminal less accountable for their actions by giving them more opportunities to cut sweetheart plea deals.
“There’s going to be a new day in Queens County for defendants!” Katz announced on Monday, according to the Gothamist.
Katz, who will take office on Jan. 1, said that she will abolish the prosecutors office’s current policy of refusing to negotiate plea agreements with accused criminals who refuse to waive their right to have their case heard by a grand jury within five days of their arrest.
“Beginning with cases newly arraigned on January 1, 2020, the DA’s staff will at all times be open to discussions aimed at resolving cases and will not withhold plea offers from persons who choose to exercise this statutory right,” Katz’s transition team said in a press release, according to the New York Post.
She also vowed to abandon the current policy of refusing to negotiate plea agreements with defendants who have already been indicted by a grand jury.
“The level of evidence necessary to secure a grand jury indictment is a ‘reasonable cause’ to believe that the person has committed the crime,” the transition team’s statement read. “Based on such a low standard of evidence, the rigid refusal to consider options other than a ‘top count’ guilty plea or trial is inconsistent with DA-elect Katz’s commitment to an open minded approach to case resolution that considers all possible dispositions of a case that will serve the ends of justice.”
Katz has promised to support efforts to make sure fewer criminals are ever arrested in the first place, and said she will support diversion programs whenever possible, the Gothamist reported.
“It’s going to come together because it’s the right thing to do,” she said.
In order to push her lenient-on-crime agenda, Katz also announced that she will be ousting at least seven members of the current eight-member executive staff, the Gothamist reported.
“As we change what we do in this office, it's important to have true believers because there are 700 people that work in that office,” she declared. “I can't be standing next to each one of them every single day.”
Katz also promised to continue releasing the names of law enforcement officers who had been flagged by her office for potential honesty issues.
The New York Police Department previously said that the officers contained on the questionable-credibility list had been placed there based on the subjective views of court judges, the Gothamist reported.
“Often, these findings are the result of insufficient preparation for testimony of the officer or the judge substituting [their] perception of the facts for the officer’s firsthand knowledge,” the NYPD said.
There is also “no mechanism to appeal a finding of adverse credibility against one of our officers,” the department said.
But Katz said she plans to keep releasing the officers’ names anyway, and said she will make sure police are given clear standards so they know how to avoid being flagged for accusations of creditability or dishonesty.
“I do think it’s a good idea to let those [names] out,” she said. “It’s important that there is faith in the law enforcement officials that are part of the evidence.”
Katz said that more replacements will be forthcoming, to include some bureau chiefs and deputy bureau chiefs, the Gothamist reported.
“Within 100 days, we are going to do another shakeup,” she declared.
The State of New York will also see a slew of so-called criminal justice reforms go into effect on Jan. 1.
Lawmakers have eliminated cash bail for nearly all criminal charges, so those arrested on offenses such as stalking, arson, resisting arrest, money laundering in support of terrorism, rioting, vehicular assault, unlawful imprisonment, negligent homicide, and a slew of drug-related charges will be allowed to walk out of jail without having to post bond.
Criminal offenses against children, including child abuse, promoting child prostitution, facilitating female genital mutilation, and possessing or promoting a sexual performance by a child will also be treated with a mandatory release.
Obstructing governmental duties by means of a bomb, killing a police K9 or horse, and obstructing emergency medical services personnel were also included on the no-jail list.
Offenders found in possession of a wide array of weapons – including guns, switchblades, swords, machetes, and stun guns – will instead be issued a “desk appearance ticket” and “set free,” the New York City Police Benevolent Association (PBA) pointed out in a Facebook post.
The city of New York has even launched a plan to hand out Mets baseball tickets and gift cards to offenders as an incentive to get them to show up to their scheduled court hearings after their no-bail jail releases.
Critics argued that doling out movie tickets, subway passes, and various store gift cards will reward criminal behavior, but New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the incentive program will be a success, according to WCBS.
“In a world where we want speedier trials and we want the justice system to work, if small incentives are part of what actually makes it work, then that’s a smart policy,” de Blasio told WCBS. “It’s not something we developed. It’s something that has been worked on by experts over time and proven to work and proven to be a good investment.”
As confident as the mayor may be in the plan, many of those who have actually worked with offenders disagreed.
Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon said the program is part of a “deranged mandate,” the New York Post reported.
“We are reaching the point of the absurd when those who are accused of serious offenses are free to roam the streets or even rewarded with gifts while the rights of victims continue to be ignored,” McMahon railed.
“They are tying our hands, they’re tying our feet and they’re gagging victims from coming forward to stand up for their rights,” McMahon added, according to the New York Post. “Many people accused with violent crimes, serious felonies, are going to be back on the street.”
Law enforcement was furious.
“In many cases, we have lost our ability to get people off the street even for a short-term basis. Even just a cool-down period,” Saratoga County Undersheriff Richard Castle told WTEN.
Undersheriff Castle said he was most worried about low-level burglary and robbery charges, as well as the number of bench warrants that will be issued when people stop showing up for court.
“So, if someone goes to your house and kicks in your front door and steals items out of your house and we catch them, they will be released. If they do it an hour later, they’ll be released again,” he explained. “Also, we’re now going to have to go find them when they don’t show up in court.”
In June, New York Police Sergeants Benevolent Association (SBA) President Ed Mullins warned that the bail reform would lead to “a free-for-all” equivalent to the movie "The Purge,” the New York Post reported.
“This is the beginning of it,” Mullins said. “Law enforcement is going to be out there holding this bag of crap when it starts. The judges are going to get the blame when they start releasing people back into the streets.”