By Forum Staff
Mere hours before Monday’s inauguration ceremony at her alma mater, St. John’s University, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz outlined new initiatives and policies that, as the Forest Hills native put it, “will make the criminal justice system more fair and equitable for the 2.3 million people of Queens County.”
The policy changes implemented on day one include four major revisions. First, the 180.80 waiver policy is abandoned. The “top count only” plea policy after indictment is also eliminated. Getting rid of the so-called 180.80 waiver policy allows assistant district attorneys at all times to discuss resolving cases through plea negotiations without a defendant waiving their statutory right to grand jury proceedings, Katz explained. She also noted that the restrictive top count plea policy limited post-indictment pleas to the top count only.
Katz immediately established a Conviction Integrity Unit and a Community Partnerships Division.
Prior to Monday’s action, Queens had been the lone borough sans a Conviction Integrity Unit.
A Conviction Integrity Unit is now in place to examine cases and make recommendations for exoneration if someone is found to be wrongfully convicted. Katz has pledged to work with defense attorneys and community leaders to determine which cases should be reviewed in order to prevent a miscarriage of justice. A wrongful conviction not only destroys the life of that innocent individual and his or her family, but it also undermines the faith we all have in our justice system, Katz noted.
And the newly minted DA indicated that the Special Prosecutions Division has been renamed the Community Partnerships Division—and “justly empowered to work with the community to foster communication and effectuate change,” Katz said.
The borough’s top prosecutor also posited that the first responsibility of the district attorney is to make our streets and neighborhoods safe. That means reducing crime and taking the necessary steps to prevent crime from happening in the first place. That means taking guns off our streets, finding avenues for young people to resolve their differences without resorting to violence, fairly investigating accusations of wrong-doing and creating diversion programs in partnership with the community. In order to advance these changes, Katz said she organized a new nine-member executive team.
“We have created a team with the unique kind of expertise and specialized skills that will usher in a new era here in Queens County,” she added. “The new policies and appointments are just the start, as we look forward to innovative ideas that will enhance the safety of all those who live, work and visit Queens.”
Photos Courtesy of St. John’s University;
the Mayoral Photography Office; and NYPD