Photo Courtesy of the Queens District Attorney’s Office
Queens DA Richard Brown (l.) and Manhattan DA Cy Vance.
By Michael V. Cusenza
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown this week noted that his office will adhere to its long-standing protocol on bail in misdemeanor cases.
“Our policy has always been, and will continue to be, to seek bail in those misdemeanor cases involving defendants with prior histories of failing to appear, lengthy criminal records which indicate a likeliness to flee, or other pending cases,” he said.
Brown, who has served as the borough’s top law-enforcement officer for more than 26 years, sought to clarify Queens’ code on such offenses on Tuesday after Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez and Manhattan DA Cy Vance announced that their offices will not request bail in most misdemeanor and violation cases.
“When non-violent New Yorkers are jailed as a function of their inability to pay, we perpetuate inequality and mass incarceration, and bring about unnecessary immigration, employment, and family consequences,” Vance said. “Beginning today, we will be guided by the presumption that bail is not appropriate for misdemeanor cases.”
Gonzalez noted that his office implemented the policy back in April.
“The goal is not to punish poor defendants accused of crimes, nor to disrupt lives, or interfere with jobs or education, but rather to make bail decisions that are fair and consistent with public safety,” he said.
Vance characterized Tuesday’s pledge as an effort to reduce inequality and unnecessary incarceration in the justice system.
“Over the past eight years we have made the advancement of criminal justice reform a part of the mission of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, right alongside our centuries-old founding mission of public safety,” he added. “Our reform mission requires that we continually evaluate the justice system we have in the context of the City we are today, and identify practices which result in unfair or unnecessary consequences for New Yorkers accused of crimes, and for the strength of our communities. In light of our record-low crime, our national imperative for justice reform, and our moral, generational obligation to close Rikers [Island], it is clear that ending cash bail is an idea whose time has come.”
In Queens, Brown said the “numbers demonstrate that our current policy is working.”
“In a study that we did of one week picked at random, we found that of 700 defendants arraigned on misdemeanor charges in Queens County, bail was set on only 43 (6 percent) of those cases. Among those 43 defendants there were 478 prior arrests, 340 prior convictions, 114 prior bench warrants and 93 other pending cases. Forty of the 43 defendants had other pending cases when they were arrested. We repeated this survey on three subsequent occasions and the results were identical,” he noted. “At the end of 2017, out of 7,100 pending Queens misdemeanor cases there were just 55 misdemeanor defendants from Queens who were being held on Rikers Island solely because they cannot make bail. Those defendants have an average of 11 prior arrests, one felony conviction, six misdemeanor convictions and two prior failures to appear in court… Our policy has been to seek bail when the defendant’s history and the circumstances of the case warrant it and, where appropriate, we will continue to do so.”