Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg acknowledged Thursday that he botched the rollout of his controversial Day 1 Policy Memo which sparked immediate backlash and weeks of relentless tabloid coverage.
But, during a virtual appearance before a panel at New York University Law School, he stood by the underlying policies within the document.
“I've been a lawyer for a long time. I've been doing the work. I have not been a comms person,” Bragg told the panel of attorneys Thursday afternoon. “I've got a lot to learn about comms and messaging. Lesson learned — we'll be framing our arguments and our theses going forward.”
At issue was the Jan. 3 memo sent to staff and subsequently released to the press, that outlined a new set of policies and principles he wanted his assistant district attorneys to follow. It included a list of low-level criminal charges Bragg’s office would no longer prosecute, it said prosecutors should seek prison time as a last resort, and it stated a commitment to reducing pre-trial detention.
The memo, which was released without a press conference, triggered a flurry of speculation that Bragg would stop prosecuting serious crimes in Manhattan and slew of headlines from Fox News, the New York Post and the Daily Mail calling him “soft on crime.”
Some of the coverage, Bragg said, came from misinterpretations of a memo originally meant for prosecutors in his office. Some of that scrutiny centered around his statements that certain crimes that had been charged as violent robberies would be charged as petit larcenies. Public defenders have said under former District Attorney Cyrus Vance, their clients often faced “upcharging,” meaning prosecutors levied more serious charges against them than the actual offenses they were alleged to have committed.
Bragg said in cases where the facts indicated a serious crime, perpetrators would be charged accordingly.
“If you are beating someone up and brandishing a knife, that is a serious matter,” Bragg said. “The fact pattern …under our law is quite serious.”
Still Bragg indicated the policies he laid out weren’t meant to be set in stone and that prosecutors in his office would have the freedom to apply them with their own discretion.
It’s about, “being dynamic and not being static,” Bragg said. “It's the framework.”