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Queens Chronicle

Katz begins changes for plea deals, more

‘They did not, in my opinion, further the cause of justice’: DA on old policy

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Posted: Thursday, January 9, 2020 10:30 am | Updated: 11:35 am, Thu Jan 16, 2020.

District Attorney Melinda Katz announced policy changes from her predecessor on the eve of her inauguration.

What’s known as the 180.80 waiver policy has been abandoned, allowing assistant district attorneys to discuss resolving cases through plea negotiations without a defendant waiving his or her statutory right to grand jury proceedings.

“That’s a real change in how this office runs,” Katz said at her inauguration Monday at St. John’s University, adding, “That is over in Queens County.”

The top count plea policy that allowed post-indictment pleas to only the top count has also been eliminated.

“They did not, in my opinion, further the cause of justice,” Katz said of the office’s former policies.

A Conviction Integrity Unit will examine cases and recommend exoneration if someone is found to be wrongfully convicted.

“Every wrongful conviction is more than a wrongful act against the individual,” Katz said. “It’s an injustice to an entire family who will suffer the loss of a spouse, a parent, a provider, a son or daughter due, by the way, to someone else’s action.”

The Special Prosecutions Division has been renamed the Community Partnerships Division, meant to “foster communication and effectuate change,” with the goal of getting guns off streets, investigating accusations of wrongdoing and creating diversion programs for defendants.

Katz also spoke about bail reform.

“My office is committing to ending cash bail in all forms. Period. But it must be done right,” she said, adding that a system is needed to ensure defendants will return.

She called the use of bail a “discriminatory system” that “incarcerates people who haven’t been convicted.”

“Our old system was based on letting people out of jail if they had money and keeping them in jail if they didn’t,” Katz said.

Jennifer Naiburg, a 26-year-veteran of the office, will serve as chief executive assistant district attorney. She held a number of positions in the office, including director of special projects and major case advisor and deputy director of trial advocacy, and was appointed the first bureau chief of the newly established Kew Gardens III felony trial bureau.

Bryce Benjet, who was a senior staff attorney with the Innocence Project for the last seven years, will serve as director of the DA’s Conviction Integrity Unit.

Katz acknowledged the criticism she has received from the “naysayers” regarding her policies from both sides.

“They say we’re not going far enough, we’re going too far,” she said. “But I was elected, I like to think, because of the trust that I will bring a steady hand in these times of uncertainty.”

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