Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has reduced charges on more than half his felony cases to misdemeanors — while also managing to lose half of the felony cases that do reach court, according to latest crime stats.
Since taking office on Jan. 1, Bragg has downgraded 52% of felony cases to misdemeanors — compared to 39% in all of 2019. Between 2013 and 2020, under District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., the percentage of cases the office downgraded had never exceeded 40%, according to data made public by the DA’s office.
When serious felony charges are brought, Bragg’s office wins a conviction only 51% of the time — down from 68% in 2019, the last year before the pandemic disrupted the court system.
He has declined to prosecute 35 percent more felony cases this year than in 2019, with 1,119 so far in 2022 compared to 828 three years ago.
The DA’s office requested bail in only 49% of felony cases this year compared to 69% in 2019. State bail reform measures mean almost no non-violent felonies are eligible for bail now although they were in 2019.
Misdemeanor convictions have also spiraled downward — to 29% so far this year, from 68% in 2019.
Bragg, who campaigned last year on a promise of criminal justice reform, proudly displays the numbers on his web site, the only one of the city’s five district attorneys to do so.
“The people in charge right now want to talk about gun violence and getting these shootings down,” said Jennifer Harrison, the founder of Victims Rights NY. “But I wonder how many of the incidents [where] the charges were downgraded or dismissed or dropped involved guns or weapons, and how are we going to eradicate this kind of violence when people like Alvin Bragg are in charge?”
Harrison added that Bragg “really needs to stop with the public defender mentality and do his job and enforce the law and prosecute crime correctly.”
Bragg issued a controversial “Day One” memo after taking office saying he would no longer seek prison sentences in many crimes, would downgrade felony charges in cases including armed robberies and drug dealing, and drop some misdemeanors.
A short time later, career criminal William Rolon was busted for threatening a store worker with a knife and charged only with a misdemeanor, leading a judge to stunningly tell him he should “feel lucky” because of Bragg’s new policies.
Bragg reversed a couple of the policies in February, including once again allowing commercial robberies committed with knives to be prosecuted as felonies.
So far this year, 1,210 felony cases have resulted in a prison sentence, a 29% drop from 1,699 in 2019. As for misdemeanor cases, the drop was even steeper — 78% — with just 522 resulting in jail compared to 2,413 in 2019.
Bragg was accused of giving a sweetheart plea deal in August to Justin Washington, accused of raping a teen-age relative, only for Washington to be arrested on new sex-crime charges the next month. The DA’s office said he would seek a greater sentence in the rape case.
Bragg did come down hard on bodega worker Jose Alba, who killed a crazed customer attacking him in his Harlem store. After a public outcry, Bragg dropped the murder charge against him.
Meanwhile, major crimes are up throughout Manhattan, with a 38% increase through Nov. 20 in Manhattan South and a 17% rise in Manhattan North compared to the same period last year.
“The real question at this point is why do you have a DA’s office? What is the DA’s office there for? The guy is avowedly anti-punishment. He’s avowedly anti-responsibility. These numbers reflect that,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor and a former NYPD officer and prosecutor in Queens and Brooklyn.
Bragg’s office said it was still dealing with the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and working under burdensome discovery reforms adopted by the state in 2019. It also contended that not every felony case was correctly classified at arrest.
“The fact is, we have prosecuted 459 more felonies this year compared to last and we have three times as many gun convictions so far this year compared to all of 2019 … we will continue prosecuting violence drivers and prioritizing safety and fairness in every case,” Bragg’s spokesman Danielle Filson said.