Fundamental change has come to Manhattan's district attorney's office.
New Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who was endorsed by the New York Times, released his “Day One” memo on Monday that includes, among other new policies, a pledge to stop seeking prison sentences for many crimes.
What are the details?
One of the more controversial policies Bragg is pushing to prosecutors in his office is that they should "not seek a carceral sentence" — unless required by law — for crimes other than homicide, serious violent felony crimes "in which a deadly weapon causes serious physical injury," domestic violence felonies, certain sex offenses, public corruption cases, and other white-collar crime.
Bragg permits exceptions only "in extraordinary circumstances based on a holistic analysis of the facts."
But Bragg goes even further. The memo states that in such cases where incarceration is the presumption, he states that "there is also no presumption that incarceration is the appropriate outcome."
Additionally, Bragg says his office will never seek a sentence of life without parole, and even in "exceptionally serious cases such as homicides where lengthy periods of incarceration are justified," Bragg instructs his prosectors to consider "restorative justice as a mitigating factor" in the sentencing process.
Bragg also instructs prosecutors to lessen certain charges levied by police officers. For example:
- For criminals who commit first-, second-, or third-degree armed robbery, Bragg says such individuals should only be charged with petty larceny "if the force or threat of force consists of displaying a dangerous instrument or similar behavior but does not create a genuine risk of physical harm."
- For convicted criminals caught with weapons other than firearms, Bragg says that unless they are charged with a more serious crime when caught with the weapon, then they should only be charged with misdemeanor criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree.
- In cases of drug dealing where prosecutors believe the arrested individual is "a low-level agent of a seller," Bragg instructs they be charged only with misdemeanor criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree. In fact, drug dealers will only be prosecuted with felony charges if they are accused of more serious crimes or if they are caught in the act of dealing drugs.
"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 instructs.
Bragg also places emphasis on diversion, which is "an alternative procedure in a criminal case where the prosecution is interrupted through a deal between the defendant and the prosecutor where the prosecutor either dismisses the charges completely or does not bring any charges to begin with."
Meanwhile, Bragg explicitly tells prosecutors to stop charging marijuana misdemeanors, fare evasion, resisting arrest, certain trespassing cases, certain obstruction cases, and prostitution.
What was the reaction?
Manhattan police officers who spoke to the New York Post expressed outrage over the policies.
One high-ranking police officer 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."
"This is outrageous. He was elected to enforce the law. If he wanted to change them, he should have run for a state office," another cop said.
Patrick Lynch, head of the New York Police Department's largest union, reacted, "Police officers don’t want to be sent out to enforce laws that the district attorneys won’t prosecute."
Mayor Eric Adams (D) said Tuesday that he has not yet reviewed the policies.