Queens DA to Pursue NYPD-Enforced Curfew for Pretrial Defendants

Police will receive photos of defendants with curfews and report alleged violations to District Attorney Melinda Katz.

Chris Gelardi   ·   April 24, 2023
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz speaks at a holiday celebration in Queens on December 19, 2021.
District Attorney Melinda Katz speaks at a holiday celebration in Queens on December 19, 2021. | District Attorney Melinda Katz
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Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz has partnered with the New York City Police Department on a new initiative to “bolster” the use of curfews as a condition of pretrial release, New York Focus has learned.

The NYPD will receive photos of defendants with pretrial curfews, and if an officer “observes” them violating curfew, they will report it to the district attorney, said a spokesperson for Katz’s office. Prosecutors could then ask a judge to impose more severe pretrial conditions — like setting cash bail or sending the defendant to Rikers Island.

The cases to which prosecutors apply the initiative “will vary according to the district attorney’s discretion,” the Katz spokesperson said, adding that “the cases in which curfew orders are typically sought involve younger defendants.”

The program, known as the Queens Court Curfew Compliance Initiative, is set for piloting in three NYPD precincts, according to two sources familiar with the plan. The specific precincts are “to be determined,” according to the spokesperson. The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment.

Defense advocates argue that the plan is a recipe for unnecessary police contact and surveillance.

“It certainly seems like an expansion of court control over people who are still presumed innocent,” said one defense attorney, who requested anonymity because they aren’t permitted to speak to the press.

“It’s giving police more tools to surveil people and keep track of them,” said another.

The Legal Aid Society, which represents criminal defendants across the five boroughs, declined to comment on the initiative. Queens Defenders, another public defender organization, did not respond to requests for comment before press time.

Katz’s office rejected characterizations of the plan as a form of active police surveillance. “NYPD will not monitor,” the spokesperson said, and officers “will not approach a defendant for a curfew violation.”

Some advocates contend that the premise of the initiative — curfew as a condition of pretrial release — is illegal. For decades, state law has barred judges from imposing conditions on defendants’ release from pretrial custody beyond those deemed necessary to get them to show up to court. And the conditions they set must be “reasonably related to an actual risk of flight.”

What time someone is home “is not in any way relevant to ensuring somebody’s returning to court,” a defense attorney said. “It’s basically the prosecution trying to treat an arrest as a sentence of probation.”

New York’s arraignment laws prescribe four main forms of pretrial conditions: release, electronic monitoring, cash bail, and jail. But judges have wide discretion to set other conditions. The use of curfew varies from courtroom to courtroom — as do interpretations of its legality.

Lucian Chalfen, spokesperson for the New York state court system, told New York Focus that curfew “may be appropriate where a judge considering all circumstances makes an individualized determination that it is the least restrictive condition … to ensure the defendant’s return to court.”

Meanwhile, defenders point to cases across several decades in which judges have ruled that curfew is irrelevant to someone’s likelihood of returning to court, and thus can’t be imposed pretrial.

Asked for comment on the policy’s legality, the Katz spokesperson simply replied, “No.” Asking judges for curfew is a “longstanding practice” among assistant district attorneys in Queens, the spokesperson said.

Katz is rolling out the curfew policy while Albany is in political upheaval over pretrial conditions. Governor Kathy Hochul continues to pressure legislative leaders to use the state’s annual budget bills — which are now more than three weeks past their due date — to pass measures allowing judges to consider factors other than returning to court. The battle comes after years of advocacy from law enforcement and tough-on-crime politicians, who assert that judges should be allowed to take defendants’ perceived “dangerousness” into consideration when setting bail.

Katz has openly advocated for pretrial incarceration based on defendants’ perceived dangerousness. In its 2022 annual report, her office states that “DA Katz recognizes that if an individual is a threat to the safety of the community because there is a strong likelihood that they will commit new crimes while released on a pending case, then they should not be on our streets.”

Chris Gelardi is a reporter for New York Focus investigating the state’s criminal-legal system. His work has appeared in more than a dozen other outlets, most frequently The Nation, The Intercept, and The Appeal. He is a past recipient of awards from Columbia… more
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