Manhattan DA "clarifies" charging guidelines for prosecutors

AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

I don’t know why Alvin Bragg felt the need to clarify anything about his original guidelines for prosecuting crimes that were released a month ago. They seemed pretty clear and easy for most people to understand.

In his first memo to staff on Monday, Alvin Bragg said his office “will not seek a carceral sentence” except with homicides and a handful of other cases, including domestic violence felonies, some sex crimes and public corruption.

“This rule may be excepted only in extraordinary circumstances based on a holistic analysis of the facts, criminal history, victim’s input (particularly in cases of violence or trauma), and any other information available,” the memo reads.

Assistant district attorneys must also now keep in mind the “impacts of incarceration,” including whether it really does increase public safety, potential future barriers to convicts involving housing and employment, the financial cost of prison and the racial disparities over who gets time, Bragg instructed.

In cases where prosecutors do seek to put a convict behind bars, the request can be for no more than 20 years for a determinate sentence, meaning one that can’t be reviewed or changed by a parole board.

Bragg directed prosecutors to avoid seeking prison sentences for the vast majority of crimes, including telling attorneys to reduce armed robbery charges down to misdemeanor shoplifting except in extenuating circumstances. The reason for Bragg’s new attempt “clarify” his previous guidelines isn’t because they were unclear. It’s because they are wildly unpopular.

His order came against a backdrop of sharply rising crime in New York City. In the NYPD’s Patrol Borough Manhattan North, major crimes are up 23% this year versus the same period last year, led by a 43% increase in robberies.

Shooting incidents have almost doubled as well. The numbers are even higher in the Patrol Borough Manhattan South.

The widow of one of the two NYPD officers killed by a gunman when they responded to a domestic disturbance call last month further fueled the firestorm around Bragg, saying in a tear-filled euology that, “The system continues to fail us. We are not safe anymore, not even the members of the service.”

However, in the letter Bragg sent out Friday, his office clarified that it will prosecute robberies with weapons as felonies, that gun possession cases will be default prosecution as felonies, and any attempt at violence against police will be prosecuted.

“In the last month, I have seen, first-hand, your tireless, great work on behalf of New Yorkers. And I have received valuable feedback on the January 3rd Memorandum,” Bragg’s letter, which was obtained by News 4 New York, read in part. The January 3rd Memorandum was intended to provide ADAs with a framework for how to approach cases in the best interest of safety and justice. Our collective experience, however, has been that the Memorandum has been a source of confusion, rather than clarity.”

So Bragg is falling in line behind Joe Biden and Eric Adams’ new mantra of “refund the police so they can go after guns”. In fact, he’s now singling out simple possession cases as one area where his office will continue to pursue felony charges.

“Gun possession cases are a key part of our plan for public safety. People walking the streets with guns will be prosecuted and held accountable,” the letter said. “The default in gun cases is a felony prosecution. We also will use gun possession cases as an opportunity to trace the sources of illegal guns and build cases against gun traffickers.”

Bearing arms without a license will continue to be treated as a felony offense in New York, even though the average citizen cannot obtain a license to carry. That’s one part of New York law that actually does need some serious reforming, but with Democrats deciding to make gun control one of their big election year issues, it looks like Bragg has decided to fall in line and be a good soldier for the party. SCOTUS’s decision in the pending challenge to New York’s current “may issue” carry laws can’t come soon enough.

As for the sincerity of Bragg’s sudden need to clarify what was perfectly obvious to everyone at the time, who knows how long it will last. Something tells me, though, that even when armed robbers start getting plea deals for shoplifting, those found simply carrying a gun without a license are still going to be charged with a violent felony offense and face the prospect of years in prison for the “crime” of bearing arms without a government permission slip.