So far the DA has determined that approximately 30 defendants “who in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the interest of justice” should be released from Rikers Island.
By Forum Staff
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Queens District Attorney’s Office has implemented massive changes to ensure good health for its staff and “swift justice for defendants during this unprecedented time,” DA Melinda Katz said Wednesday morning.
Katz noted that the Office has set up office workstations with access to Skype for Business so that Assistant District Attorneys can virtually arraign defendants without being physically present and putting their health at risk. All arraignment proceedings have shifted from in-person court appearances to fully virtual appearances. The same applies to Supreme Court matters. An All Purpose Part will entertain all felony matters going forward including Supreme Court arraignments, pleas, and sentencings. A second Supreme Court Part will serve as a Youth Part where adolescent offenders will have their cases adjourned for a six-day review after they are arraigned.
Additionally, Katz said that over the past few days a panel of nearly a dozen prosecutors has been working to identify defendants, “who in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the interest of justice,” should be released from Rikers Island. The panel is considering each defendant’s age, criminal history, the remaining time on their sentence, and the defendant’s current health condition in reaching a determination. The panel has also reached out to the victims of the crimes committed by these defendants to consider their positions in making recommendations before presenting its findings to the Katz for her final decision. While the process of release is ongoing, so far the DA has determined that approximately 30 defendants should be released from the island.
In the coming weeks, Katz concluded, her Office “will continue to provide the essential services necessary to keep Queens County’s residents safe while we do everything possible to avoid COVID-19. Therefore, we are operating within the office with a skeletal crew while most of our employees work remotely from home.”