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District attorneys across the Big Apple last year declined to prosecute accused felons at nearly twice the rate of 2019 — letting more than 6,500 suspects off the hook, The Post has learned.
Prosecutors dropped all charges in 16.9 percent of the 38,635 felony cases that were closed in New York City during 2020, according to data compiled by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
The year before, that rate was just 8.7 percent and the average for 2016 to 2019 was an even lower 8 percent, the statistics show.
Even though far fewer cases were disposed of last year, the 6,522 defendants whose charges were dropped exceeded the 5,985 who weren’t prosecuted in 2019.
The total number of cases closed in 2020 plunged by a massive 44.1 percent last year amid court closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic — down from 69,119 the year before.
New York City police officers secure and investigate a shooting scene on August 20, 2020 in downtown Brooklyn, New York. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
A law enforcement source said there were “a lot of layers to the problem,” including veteran prosecutors retiring or leaving for other jobs and “inexperienced [prosecutors] and cops making it harder to do trials,” as well as the political nature of DAs’ jobs.
“The DAs are worried about getting re-elected,” the source said.
“Plus, you throw in a bucket of ‘woke’ and no one is getting prosecuted.”
The source also pointed to controversial, recently enacted laws governing the disclosure of evidence to the defense, known as “discovery.”
“Now, if someone takes a plea, you still have to provide the discovery information even though the case is closed,” the source said.
“Before, you didn’t have to. If you DP [decline to prosecute] a case, there is no discovery.”
The borough with the highest number of felony cases that weren’t prosecuted last year was the Bronx, where DA Darcel Clark dumped 2,408, or 28.5 percent.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. speaks at global cyber security symposium at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on November 18, 2015 in New York City. Vance called for a better way for government agencies to access private data in an effort to fight crime. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Another 2,365 cases, or 28 percent, were dismissed by judges, helping push the rate at which defendants were convicted and sentenced in the Bronx to a dismal 27.4 percent, down from 44.2 percent in 2019.
But that number was even lower in Brooklyn, where it dropped to just 21.1 percent last year from 41.5 percent in 2019.
DA Eric Gonzalez declined to prosecute 2,206 cases, or 17.8 percent, and judges dismissed more than twice as many: 5,335 or 42.9 percent.
In Manhattan, outgoing DA Cyrus Vance Jr. declined to prosecute 11.7 percent of the cases disposed of last year, up from 7.6 percent in 2019.
Only two boroughs saw district attorneys decline to prosecute cases last year at rates that didn’t reach double digits.
In Queens, under DA Melinda Katz, the number was 9.9 percent, up from 5 percent in 2019, and on Staten Island, under DA Michael McMahon, it was 8.2 percent, up from 4.8 percent.
The crest on the jacket of a New York City Police Officer while on patrol.
Last year’s increase in the proportion of cases abandoned by prosecutors was also accompanied by steep decreases in the number of convictions and sentences of incarceration, the statistics show.
Just 7.4 percent of defendants 18 and older were convicted of felonies and 10.5 percent were convicted of misdemeanors, compared to 12.1 percent and 17.1 percent, respectively, in 2019.
And only 3.8 percent of cases that began as felonies resulted in judges sending criminals to prison for a year or more or to jail for shorter terms during 2020.
In 2019, prison sentences were handed down in 7 percent of cases and jail sentences in 7.2 percent of cases.
Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD detective sergeant and adjunct professor at the city’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, was outraged by the situation, saying, “There’s so many people that will lose their lives because of that.”
“Eventually, it’s all going to backfire,” he said.
“It’s going to take its course, like everything else. The pendulum will swing back the other way, and they’ll stop electing people who are pretending to be a district attorney in name only.”
A Bronx DA spokeswoman said, “We prosecute cases when there is legally sufficient evidence. We decline to prosecute or defer prosecution in cases where police may need to gather more evidence or secure the cooperation of witnesses so that the case can move forward.”
A suspect shoots a man in broad daylight in the Bronx, inches away from two terrified children. (NYPD)
“It is our duty as prosecutors to ethically assess each arrest as it comes in and determine if it is legally sufficient to proceed,” spokeswoman Denisse Moreno added.
A Gonzalez spokesperson said his office “led the way” at the height of the pandemic last year “by announcing that we would decline to prosecute low-level and non-violent cases in response to the public health emergency.”
“We have since resumed our pre-pandemic practice, which includes robust diversion programs wherein we decline prosecution if individuals successfully complete their requirements,” the spokesperson said.
“The fact that homicides and shootings in Brooklyn have decreased by over 20 percent compared to last year and major crime is down 5 percent proves that our approach has been successful and kept the public safe.”
A McMahon spokeswoman declined to comment and none of the spokespersons for the other DAs’ offices immediately returned requests for comment.
A spokesman for the Office of Court Administration declined to comment on behalf of the city’s judiciary.
Additional reporting by Tina Moore and Larry Celona
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