Queens District Attorney-elect Melinda Katz announced Tuesday she will go softer on criminal defendants when she takes over as the borough’s chief prosecutor on Jan. 1.
Katz said she will make it easier for criminal defendants to have their cases heard by a grand jury within five days of an arrest, without losing their right to plea bargain.
The former borough president said defendants have a legal right to have a grand jury hearing within five days. But the current policy of the Queens DA’s office refuses to bargain with a defendant who does not wave his right to the five-day grand jury rule.
“Beginning with cases newly arraigned on January 1, 2020, the DA’s staff will at all times be open to discussions aimed at resolving cases and will not withhold plea offers from persons who choose to exercise this statutory right,” a press statement put out by Katz’s transition team said.
Likewise, Katz said the existing policy of refusing to engage in plea discussions with defendants who’ve been indicted by a grand jury “will also be abandoned.”
“The level of evidence necessary to secure a grand jury indictment is a ‘reasonable cause’ to believe that the person has committed the crime. Based on such a low standard of evidence, the rigid refusal to consider options other than a ‘top count’ guilty plea or trial is inconsistent with DA-elect Katz’s commitment to an open minded approach to case resolution that considers all possible dispositions of a case that will serve the ends of justice,” the statement said.
Katz said she made the changes to “foster a new spirit of cooperation” with all parties — including defendants — to seek justice.