For the first time in decades, Queens will have a new top prosecutor. Six Democrats are vying in a primary to replace former District Attorney Richard Brown, who died earlier this year.
From decriminalizing marijuana to ending cash bail, candidates are proposing significant changes to how crimes are prosecuted in the borough. Let this guide help you navigate the issues so you can cast an informed vote.
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The Queens district attorney is in charge of a team of prosecutors who handle all criminal cases in the borough.
It's a job with some direct, practical impacts for Queens residents. A DA can help determine which crimes are prosecuted — and how severely. So 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.
NOTE: Queens Councilman Rory Lancman will appear on the ballot, but he withdrew his candidacy June 21.
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.
Tiffany Cabán — Supports the end of cash bail for any offense, arguing it is representative of income inequality in the city. Cabán says the Queens DA's office can check in with defendants to ensure they return to court.
Greg Lasak — Supports not requiring cash bail for minor offenses, but Lasak says he wants the state to change the upcoming bail law to allow judges to consider the seriousness of the charge.
Mina Malik —Supports not requiring cash bail and instead calls for monitoring defendants and having them check in with the DA's office.
Betty Lugo — Supports ending bail for low-level offenses, but she is open to requiring it for violent offenses or if a defendant is considered a flight-risk.
Jose Nieves — Supports not requiring cash bail for any offense, arguing it is a factor in stop-and-frisk in New York City disproportionately impacting people of color. Nieves says defendants could be monitored or fitted with ankle monitors.
Conviction Integrity Unit:
Melinda Katz — Wants to establish a Conviction Integrity Unit for Queens that is independent from anyone involved in the original cases. Katz says she will consult defense attorneys and community leaders to determine what cases should be reviewed.
Tiffany Cabán — Wants a robust Conviction Integrity Unit for Queens. She also supports clearing convictions and releasing people for crimes that are no longer being prosecuted.
Greg Lasak — Argues he has the best experience to maintain a Conviction Integrity Unit. Lasak said he overturned more than a dozen wrongful convictions while serving on the state Supreme Court. Lasak wants the Queens unit to rely on the counsel of witnesses, investigators, and retired police detectives.
Mina Malik — Says she will use her experience helping establish a Conviction Integrity Unit at the Brooklyn district attorney's office to start one at the Queens office. Malik says she wants a unit independent from anyone involved in the original cases.
Betty Lugo — Says she would set up a Conviction Integrity Unit for the Queens DA's office. Lugo wants the unit to work with faith-based and community leaders to review convictions.
Jose Nieves — Promises to establish a Conviction Integrity Unit for the Queens DA's office, and wants the unit to have an advisory board that includes community leaders, retired judges, and those formerly incarcerated or exonerated of crimes.
Melinda Katz — Says she would not prosecute low-level marijuana offenses.
Tiffany Cabán — Says she wouldn't prosecute any recreational drug use if it doesn't pose a threat to other people.
Greg Lasak — Says he wouldn't prosecute low-level marijuana offenses.
Mina Malik — Promises she wouldn't prosecute low-level drug possession cases.
Betty Lugo — Says her Queens DA office wouldn't prosecute low-level marijuana offenses, and she would push police officers to not stop people only if they smell of marijuana.
Jose Nieves — Vows he wouldn't prosecute low-level marijuana possession cases.
Melinda Katz — Supports closing Rikers Island quickly but does not support opening a new jail in Kew Gardens, arguing the city's plan has not solicited enough input from the neighborhoods.
Tiffany Cabán — Supports closing Rikers Island quickly but does not support new jails. She argues new jails always become overcrowded. She opts, instead, for decarceration.
Greg Lasak — Wants Rikers to be closed or refurbished, and supports opening new jails at the location.
Mina Malik — Supports closing Rikers Island but doesn't support opening a new jail in Kew Gardens.
Betty Lugo — Calls for Rikers to be refurbished instead of it being replaced with borough-based jails. Lugo says Queens residents shouldn't have to deal with prisoners near their homes.
Jose Nieves — Supports closing Rikers Island but doesn't support opening a new jail in Kew Gardens.
Melinda Katz — Supports not prosecuting sex workers and instead targeting traffickers, pimps, and those who solicit them.
Tiffany Cabán — Supports the full decimalization of sex work, saying sex workers are victims and need the employment because they face economic inequities. Cabán says she would instead focus on targeting sex traffickers.
Greg Lasak — Says he wouldn't prosecute sex workers and would instead target traffickers, pimps, and those who solicit them.
Mina Malik — Promises her Queens DA office would not prosecute sex workers and would instead target traffickers, pimps, and those who solicit them.
Betty Lugo — Supports not prosecuting sex workers and instead targeting traffickers, pimps, and those who solicit them.
Jose Nieves — Vows his Queens DA office would not prosecute sex workers and would instead target traffickers, pimps, and those who solicit them.