Who needs soft-on-crime judges when the district attorney doesn’t even want to lock up the bad guys?
Manhattan’s new DA has ordered his prosecutors to stop seeking prison sentences for hordes of criminals and to downgrade felony charges in cases including armed robberies and drug dealing, according to a set of progressive policies made public Tuesday.
In his first memo to staff on Monday, Alvin Bragg said his office “will not seek a carceral sentence” except with homicides and a handful of other cases, including domestic violence felonies, some sex crimes and public corruption.
“This rule may be excepted only in extraordinary circumstances based on a holistic
analysis of the facts, criminal history, victim’s input (particularly in cases of
violence or trauma), and any other information available,” the memo reads.
Assistant district attorneys must also now keep in mind the “impacts of incarceration,” including whether it really does increase public safety, potential future barriers to convicts involving housing and employment, the financial cost of prison and the racial disparities over who gets time, Bragg instructed.
In cases where prosecutors do seek to put a convict behind bars, the request can be for no more than 20 years for a determinate sentence, meaning one that can’t be reviewed or changed by a parole board.
“The Office shall not seek a sentence of life without parole,” the memo states.
Under state law, that punishment is reserved for the most heinous of murderers, including terrorists, serial killers, cop killers and fiends who kill children younger than 14 during in connection with sex crimes or torture.
Bragg’s memo also detailed the following instructions for prosecutors to reduce charges filed by cops in various cases:
Armed robbers who use guns or other deadly weapons to stick up stores and other businesses will be prosecuted only for petty larceny, a misdemeanor, provided no victims were seriously injured and there’s no “genuine risk of physical harm” to anyone. Armed robbery, a class B felony, would typically be punishable by a maximum of 25 years in prison, while petty larceny subjects offenders to up to 364 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Convicted criminals caught with weapons other than guns will have those felony charges downgraded to misdemeanors unless they’re also charged with more serious offenses. Criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, a class D felony, is punishable by up to 7 years behind bars.
Burglars who steal from residential storage areas, parts of homes that aren’t “accessible to a living area” and businesses located in mixed-use buildings will be prosecuted for a low-level class D felony that only covers break-ins instead of for more serious crimes. Those more serious crimes, class B and class C felonies, would be punishable by up to 25 and up to 15 years in prison respectively.
Drug dealers believed to be “acting as a low-level agent of a seller” will be prosecuted only for misdemeanor possession. Also, suspected dealers will only be prosecuted on felony charges if they’re also accused of more serious crimes or are actually caught in the act of selling drugs. That felony would mean facing up to seven years behind bars.
“ADAs should use their judgment and experience to evaluate the person arrested, and identify people: who suffer from mental illness; who are unhoused; who commit crimes of poverty; or who suffer from substance use disorders,” Bragg added.
“Charges should be brought consistent with the goal of providing services to such individuals, and leverage during plea negotiations should not be a factor in this decision,” he wrote.
In an accompanying “Day One” letter to his staff, Bragg claimed, “These policy changes not only will, in and of themselves, make us safer; they also will free up prosecutorial resources to focus on violent crime.”
He also pledged that “new initiatives and policies on guns, sex crimes, hate crimes, and other matters will be announced in the coming weeks.”
The moves sparked immediate outrage from cops who said the policies will lead to more crime and shootings.
“Bragg gives criminals the roadmap to freedom from prosecution and control of our streets,” said the head of the NYPD Detectives’ Endowment Association.
“In Bragg’s Manhattan, you can resist arrest, deal drugs, obstruct arrests, and even carry a gun and get away with it,” DEA president Paul DiGiacomo said in a prepared statement.
The head of the NYPD’s largest union, the Police Benevolent Association, also expressed “serious concerns about the message these types of policies send to both police officers and criminals on the street.”
“Police officers don’t want to be sent out to enforce laws that the district attorneys won’t prosecute,” PBA president Patrick Lynch said.
“And there are already too many people who believe that they can commit crimes, resist arrest, interfere with police officers and face zero consequences.”
A Manhattan police supervisor said: “The identical platform has not worked out in San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore.”
“It will lead to more young lives lost to gang violence and innocent people being hurt both physically and emotionally,” the high-ranking cop said.
Another Manhattan cop fumed, “This is outrageous. He was elected to enforce the law. If he wanted to change them, he should have run for a state office.”
During a news conference Tuesday to announce the indictments of 17 members of three gangs in Brooklyn, Mayor Eric Adams was asked for his reaction.
“I have not communicated with the DA. I have not looked over and analyzed exactly what he’s calling for,” he said.
But Adams, a former NYPD captain who was elected on a law-and-order platform, added: “I have a lot of respect for DA Bragg, a former prosecutor. He has a real vision.”
Adams also said he planned to meet soon with state and federal lawmakers “to get in the room and operate off the same playbook.”
“We can have the justice we deserve with the public safety we need,” he said.
“And I believe DA Bragg will be open to engage in that conversation, as well as the DAs in Staten Island as well as the Bronx.”
In July, Adams appeared alongside Bragg at the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network headquarters in Harlem after both men won their Democratic Party primary races.
At the time, Adams said Bragg’s views on addressing crime were “no different than mine,” adding: “Alvin Bragg is going to redefine the prosecutor’s office and how we are going to ensure that we don’t criminalize young people every day in this city.”
Bragg, who was sworn into office Jan. 1, also made clear his mission is to reduce the number of defendants locked up pretrial, telling his prosecutors, “Particularly given the ongoing crisis at Rikers, we must reserve pretrial detention for very serious cases.”
The 48-year-old also vowed to stop pursuing many low-level offenses in his note to staff, titled: “Achieving Fairness and Safety.”
A civil rights lawyer and former federal prosecutor, he drew on his own experiences growing up in the 1980s in Harlem in his note to staff — and during the campaign — saying it has influenced his belief in reforming the criminal justice system.
“Data, and my personal experiences, show that reserving incarceration for matters involving significant harm will make us safer,” the memo reads.
Story cited here.