MANHATTAN - The trial penalty is a form of pressure on defendants that further criminalizes poverty, contributes to mass incarceration, and is frankly dishonest and predatory. Manhattan district attorney candidate Dan Quart would only file charges that evidence supports if elected and he would also get rid of the trial tax so people don’t feel pressured into pleading guilty. Quart isn’t new to this issue: he has been a longtime critic of DA Vance’s “trial by ambush” tactics and co-sponsored seminole “open-file” discovery reforms in the legislature.
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Earlier this year, a report on use of the “trial penalty” -- the increased likelihood that a defendant, if proven guilty at trial, will face a harsher sentence than if they had opted into a plea deal -- in New York showed that its practice by district attorneys threatens the constitutional rights of defendants, limits law enforcement transparency, and weakens the overall integrity of the justice system.
[...] The trial penalty is widely considered to be a driving force behind mass incarceration and wrongful conviction, serving as a loophole through which law enforcement can escape a vital check on its overreach. Its use can be driven by a number of factors including mandatory minimums and overcharging by lawyers who, faced with burdensome caseloads, want to save time by avoiding trials while also racking up as many convictions as possible.
[...] Dan Quart, a New York State Assembly member, is proposing to fight the trial penalty by providing defense with a full, complete, and relevant discovery so all parties have the same information. He also promises greater flexibility and transparency during the plea bargaining process as well a commitment to decline prosecuting multiple misdemeanor charges and downgrade certain penal law offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. On the underlying causes of the trial penalty, Quart assured he would not as DA rely on unrestricted prosecutorial charging discretion or request cash bail. He also cited his experience in the legislature as uniquely qualifying for a working relationship aimed at eliminating mandatory minimums.
In reference to violations of Brady, Quart argued that by declining to prosecute low-level offenses, he could free up resources to support assistant district attorneys in complying with discovery rules and securing thorough and effective work. On retroactive review of convictions, Quart doubled down on criticism of current Manhattan DA Vance and promised to work with the Legislature to reform penal law Section 440, which he argues would give greater flexibility to defendants claiming to be innocent or that their convictions were secured improperly.
The racial disparities evident in use of the trial penalty need to be public knowledge, Quart argues, joining other candidates in the promise to share data on charging decisions and plea offers. He also set himself apart by vowing not to use the “enterprise statute” for drug sweeps or to use surveillance-based technology, citing both as tools that disproportionately target young men and boys of color.
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