Looks like the “tough on crime” Eric Adams era in NYC is over before it began.
This memo from Manhattan’s new district attorney, Alvin Bragg, isn’t as bad as some on social media are treating it. But it’s bad.
The first paragraph seems like it would encompass a lot of offenses, including some very serious ones. For instance, here’s New York’s statute for robbery in the first degree:
Would a robber qualify for prison time under Bragg’s policy if he points a gun at his victim’s head and threatens to blow it off but doesn’t actually do it? What about someone who commits kidnapping in the second degree? Per the memo, Class B felonies like those should only warrant incarceration if serious physical injury actually results.
Lotta disturbed, dangerous people are going to be walking free in New York City. More than usual, I mean.
But wait. Law professor John Pfaff says we’re missing the fine print. Read the first paragraph of Bragg’s memo again and note the phrase “unless required by law.” It turns out the New York Penal Code requires prison time for many offenses, including Class B felonies. Quote:
If Bragg’s office charges someone with first-degree robbery or second-degree kidnapping, they must seek five years in prison at a minimum. Read in that context, Bragg’s memo seems designed to mislead his progressive base by making it appear that he’ll go softer on criminals than he actually will. He won’t seek a carceral sentence for all sorts of crimes … unless the statutes require him to, which they do in New York for all serious offenses.
No big deal, then, right? Well, hold on. Bragg will be forced to seek prison time for a Class B felony if and only if he chooses to charge the offender with a Class B felony. What if he deliberately undercharges them in order to seek less prison time for them? Apparently that’s the plan for some offenses:
Bragg’s memo also detailed the following instructions for prosecutors to reduce charges filed by cops in various cases:
Armed robbers who use guns or other deadly weapons to stick up stores and other businesses will be prosecuted only for petty larceny, a misdemeanor, provided no victims were seriously injured and there’s no “genuine risk of physical harm” to anyone. Armed robbery, a class B felony, would typically be punishable by a maximum of 25 years in prison, while petty larceny subjects offenders to up to 364 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Convicted criminals caught with weapons other than guns will have those felony charges downgraded to misdemeanors unless they’re also charged with more serious offenses. Criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, a class D felony, is punishable by up to 7 years behind bars…
Drug dealers believed to be “acting as a low-level agent of a seller” will be prosecuted only for misdemeanor possession. Also, suspected dealers will only be prosecuted on felony charges if they’re also accused of more serious crimes or are actually caught in the act of selling drugs. That felony would mean facing up to seven years behind bars.
Go back to my hypothetical about a robber who points a gun at the head of his victim but doesn’t fire. Bragg might charge that person with a felony because there was a “genuine risk of physical harm” if the gun went off. But what if instead the robber simply showed the victim that he had a weapon and warned him to fork over his money. Would there be prison time for a crime like that, in which a person was threatened with — but not directly endangered by — a deadly weapon?
It gets worse. Apparently Bragg is putting a ceiling of 20 years in prison on all crimes. Murder, rape, child molestation — whatever you’re guilty of, the worst you’ll do in the Bragg era is two decades. Even life without parole isn’t on the table, let alone the death penalty.
You ready for that, New Yorkers? How about Mayor Adams, the guy who’s supposedly going to crack down on crime?
PBA Statement on Manhattan District Attorney Policy Memo pic.twitter.com/ujydGCy62M
— NYC PBA (@NYCPBA) January 4, 2022
Some lesser offenses won’t be prosecuted at all on Bragg’s watch: “[T]heft of services, trespassing (unless it accompanies a stalking charge), aggravated unlicensed operation, routine traffic violations not accompanied by felony charges, obstructing governmental administration, resisting arrest, and prostitution.” “The identical platform has not worked out in San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore,” said one police supervisor to the New York Post about Bragg’s memo. Another cop added, “This is outrageous. He was elected to enforce the law. If he wanted to change them, he should have run for a state office.”
Adams was asked about Bragg’s memo today and was politic. “I believe that he’s going to be a good district attorney, and I’m going to sit down and have a conversation with him as we build out what we need to do around public safety,” he said. “I think he’s on Team Public Safety. Team Public Safety is not only handcuffs, Team Public Safety is also ending the pipeline that turns people into career criminals.” The DA’s justification for his policy is that not prosecuting lesser offenses will free up resources to focus on more serious crimes, which is super but doesn’t require an actual stated policy. Of course prosecutors will prioritize violent offenses above less serious ones; if the DA’s office needs to overlook some low-level crimes because it’s too busy trying major offenders, that’s fine. But those decisions can be made on a discretionary basis, as circumstances warrant. Bragg is building out an excuse in advance to not go after certain criminals by framing it in terms of resource management.
The fear here is that Manhattan will soon have a “broken windows” problem on its hands in which criminals grow more brazen upon realizing that lesser offenses will be tolerated — and that even major offenses are capped at 20-year sentences. If crime gets out of hand in the City, Adams will doubtless blame Bragg for it the same way San Francisco Mayor London Breed is feuding with far-left DA Chesa Boudin over law enforcement lately. But Adams wants to be a national figure for Democrats and that ain’t gonna happen if crime goes up on his watch instead of down. High stakes for him here, and of course for New Yorkers.