For the first time in decades, Queens is set to elect a new top prosecutor.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who narrowly won a long and drawn-out Democratic primary for district attorney, is facing Republican Joe Murray, a registered Democrat, criminal defense attorney, and a former police officer.
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From decriminalizing marijuana to ending cash bail, here's what you need to know about where the candidates stand:
WHERE DO THE CANDIDATES STAND ON THE ISSUES?
Ending Cash Bail:
Melinda Katz — Supports not asking for cash bail for any offense. She says the DA could remand a repeat offender or those charged of more serious crimes.
Joe Murray — Doesn't support the end of cash bail in most cases by 2020. Murray argues cash bail is necessary to compel a defendant to show up for their court dates.
Conviction Integrity Unit:
Melinda Katz — Wants to establish a Conviction Integrity Unit for Queens that is independent of anyone involved in the original cases. Katz says she will consult defense attorneys and community leaders to determine which cases should be reviewed.
Joe Murray — Wants to establish a Conviction Integrity Unit for Queens.
Melinda Katz — Says she would not prosecute low-level marijuana offenses.
Joe Murray — Supports continuing prosecuting low-level offenses, such as possessing marijuana.
Melinda Katz — Supports closing Rikers Island quickly but does not back opening a new jail in Kew Gardens, arguing the city's plan did not solicit enough input from neighborhoods.
Joe Murray — Does not support closing Rikers Island, arguing it can continue to operate as a city jail. Murray also does not support opening a new jail in Kew Gardens.
Melinda Katz — Supports Discovery reform to end the practice of prosecutors withholding key evidence from the defense in the early stages of criminal cases. Katz argues a prosecutor shouldn't fear handing over evidence if they prosecute a case properly.
Joe Murray — Murray supports Discovery reform, although he argues the call for prosecutors to hand over evidence within 15 days is too aggressive.
Melinda Katz — Supports not prosecuting sex workers and instead targeting traffickers, pimps, and those who solicit them.
Joe Murray — Says he has no interest in decriminalizing sex work.
WHAT DOES THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY DO?
The Queens district attorney is in charge of a team of prosecutors that handles all criminal cases in the borough.
It's a job with a direct and practical effect on Queens residents. A DA determines which crimes are prosecuted — and how severely. If someone is charged in Queens with a crime, such as assault, the DA's office handles the prosecution, determines if bail is required, and can even decide to drop the charge altogether.
District attorneys' offices have become spaces for criminal justice reforms in recent years. Some DAs around the nation, whom local ones are emulating, have begun enforcing new agendas to reduce jail populations and hand out less severe punishments for non-violent offenses. For example, some district attorneys in New York City recently decided to not prosecute people for smoking or possessing marijuana.
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The next Queens district attorney will enter an office that had been occupied for nearly three decades by Richard Brown, who passed away earlier this year.
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