DA-elect lays out reforms to 180.80 waiver and top count policies for new year

At the start of the New Year, there will be some major shakeups in the Queens criminal justice system as soon-to-be-former Borough President Melinda Katz takes on her new role as district attorney.

Starting Jan. 1, the 180.80 waivers and top count plea policies will be reformed, according to Katz’s transition team.

In Queens, a person who didn’t waive their right under the 180.80 motion, which allows the individual to plead a case before a grand jury within five days of arrest, did not have the opportunity to engage in plea bargain discussions, according to Katz’s team. That will no longer be the case come 2020.

“A person held has a right to have a grand jury hear their case within five days of arrest. This is to ensure that there is at least, ‘reasonable cause’ to believe that a person held actually committed the crime,” said Katz’s team. “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.”

Katz will also abandon the existing policy that refuses to allow an individual indicted by a grand jury the opportunity to have plea discussions after the indictment.

“As stated above, the level of evidence necessary to secure a grand jury indictment is a ‘reasonable cause to believe’ that the person has committed the crime,” said Katz’s team. “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.”

A top count guilty plea often forces a defendant to choose a harsher jail sentence than what they would have received if they had waived their rights to a 180.80, regardless if they are innocent of what they are charged of, or risk a lengthy trial that they might lose with an even longer jail sentence, according to New York Criminal Procedure, 2017 edition.

Going forward, all possible dispositions will involve some form of case resolution and other policies may be subject to reform, according to the transition team.

“As additional policies are studied, they too will be subject to revision and in the event, such changes are to be made they will be announced,” said the transition team.

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