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Criminal Court Reform

Manhattan’s Criminal Court has jurisdiction principally over misdemeanor offenses such as theft, harassment, non-felony assault, or quality of life crimes.  It is crucial to the proper functioning of our court system and to the people of Manhattan, because this is where approximately 85 percent of the Manhattan District Attorney’s caseload is prosecuted – in 2010, nearly 85,000 cases were arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court.

The Criminal Court handles many cases that are serious, though they are still misdemeanors.  They can involve incidents of domestic and interpersonal violence, assault and aggravated harassment, driving while intoxicated, high risk offenders or repeat criminals.  Prosecutors, public defense attorneys, and judges have caseloads that are nearly unmanageable.  Inevitably, the public deserves a system of justice that is as efficient as it is fair.

To combat this problem, the DA’s Office in April 2010 implemented a three-month “all hands on deck” initiative to reform the Criminal Court, in which all senior Assistant District Attorneys handled misdemeanor prosecutions and decreased institutional assignments to give junior assistants more time to focus on serious cases, recidivists and reduce the current backlog.  We also asked our partners in the Office of Court Administration to help the project by adding court parts to handle trials, including Supreme Court and Criminal Court court parts that are not normally trial parts.

Many of our goals were achieved: from April 2010 to December 2010 compared to the same time period the previous year, we reduced misdemeanor caseloads of ADAs by 31 percent; we increased the number of criminal court trials commenced by 117 percent and bench trials commenced by 295 percent; and we reduced speedy trial dismissals for VTL 1192 cases (DWI) by nearly 58 percent.

We still have work to do.  With our partners in OCA, we plan to announce several initiatives this year that will continue our work in reducing the criminal court backlog and improving the work of our criminal court system for victims and defendants.