Queens District Attorney 2019 Election Guide
Why Do Prosecutors Mattter?
Report Card Grading Guide - What Does Each Category Mean?
Ending Broken Windows:
Thousands of New Yorkers are arrested, prosecuted, and monitored for low-level “broken windows” offenses. These prosecutions do NOT make our communities safer and disproportionately target poor communities of color, especially Black and Latinx people. Examples of "broken window" offenses include: jumping a turnstile, possessing marijuana, or selling untaxed cigarettes. Most of these prosecutions are ultimately dismissed or end in non-criminal violations—a tremendous waste of resources. These arrests can also lead to serious consequences like deportation, job loss or suspension or, as seen in the case of Eric Garner, death. The next Queens DA must use their power to stop prosecuting these cases and focus on real harms in our community.
Ending Cash Bail:
Today there are two criminal justice systems—one for the rich and one for the poor. Despite being presumed innocent, if a person cannot pay bail they are forced to stay in jail while they wait for a trial or to take a plea to get out of jail. In 2017, 75% of people on Rikers Island were awaiting trial. There are many ways to ensure a person returns to court without this unequal and discriminatory system, and prosecutors around the country are already using them. The next Queens DA must use their power to end this two-tiered system of justice by not asking for cash bail.
Accessing data about who is charged and prosecuted by the Queens DA is extremely difficult. This makes it impossible for the community to hold the DA’s Office accountable for their policies. Nepotism and a lack of diversity are also major issues in the office. In one of the most diverse counties in the world, the DA’s office employs few non-white staff, and many employees live in Long Island, not Queens. The children of current Queens judges fill the ranks of the DA’s office, and family trees often extend deep within the office as well. We also considered whether a candidate would join the the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York (DAASNY), a conservative lobbying group of prosecutors that opposes reform measures. The next Queens DA must commit to releasing data, hiring employees who live in Queens and reflect the diversity of the borough, and meeting regularly with members of the community.
Access to Evidence:
Everyone charged with a crime deserves to see the evidence against them. Currently, Queens County operates under a regressive policy known as the “the waiver.” Unlike any other borough in the city, the Queens DA forces people to give up their rights to have their cases quickly presented to a Grand Jury and to see the evidence against them in order to negotiate for any plea. This policy, and the choice to withhold evidence, means that many people decide to take years in prison without ever seeing a police report or spend months on Rikers Island before seeing the evidence in their case. The next Queens DA must end the waiver policy and turn over evidence swiftly so that people charged with crimes can make an informed decision about what to do in their case.
Police + DA Misconduct:
When the NYPD engages in misconduct and brutality, the DA must hold police officers accountable without giving them special treatment. When it comes to prosecutors, the current culture at the Queens DA office allows rampant misconduct—including withholding evidence and using unreliable witnesses—to go unchecked. Queens is the only DA office in New York City that refuses to set up a conviction review unit to make sure that innocent people who are in prison go free. The next Queens DA must hold police and prosecutors accountable, and create a conviction review unit.
Deporting members of our communities serves no one. It separates families and makes survivors of violence reluctant to call the police for fear that either they or a family member will be deported. District Attorneys have immense power to help protect immigrants, by offering pleas that hold people accountable without exposing immigrants to the possibility of deportation for minor crimes. DAs can also advocate to keep immigration agents out of our courthouses so that everyone can access justice. The next Queens DA must protect immigrants.
Treatment for Mental Health and Drug Addiction:
One of the driving forces behind mass incarceration is the criminalization of mental health and drug addiction. More than 40% of people at Rikers Island are mentally ill, making Rikers the largest mental health provider in the state. Treatment Courts, while a step in the right direction, often come with barriers to participation, such as high treatment costs, and the requirement of up-front criminal pleas that come with lengthy jail alternatives and severe immigration consequences. The next Queens DA must use their power and their funding to allow all residents to access treatment and make our communities safer by ensuring people get medical care, not jail.
End Mass Incarceration:
Mass incarceration dehumanizes poor people and people of color, disrupts communities and does not reduce recidivism. Studies show that societal issues like mental illness, poverty, and homelessness cannot be jailed away. In 2017, the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform found that it costs $247,000 to detain a single person on Rikers Island for a year. In grading this category, we considered candidates’ positions on issues such as closing Rikers Island, charging and plea negotiation policies, prosecuting students for incidents at school, and decriminalizing sex work. The next Queens DA must commit to ending mass incarceration and working with our community for real solutions.
Past Record on Progressive Values:
The candidates running for Queens DA come from diverse backgrounds. This category examines their track record of implementing progressive policies, as well as their management and professional experience. In grading this category, we weighed whether a candidate has contributed to mass incarceration through their prior employment as a prosecutor or through policy proposals as a politician. The next Queens DA must be a true reformer, someone who the community can trust to push through progressive policies that end mass incarceration and promote true justice for Queens residents.