Queens DA’s office asks that county supreme court toss 700 prostitution cases

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz arrives at the scene where a woman’s body was found in the trunk of a car in South Ozone Park on March 10, 2021.
Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz is asking courts to dismiss up to 700 prostitution cases where arrests may have been veiled behind “vague” loitering laws which often target women of color and trans folks.

This news comes a month after Albany legislators successfully repealed Penal Law 240.37, legitimizing the efforts of the district attorneys to ease the punishment against sex workers and could possibly appeal to criminal justice reformers who pushed in the 2019 election for decriminalization.

According to Katz, her office has declined to prosecute anyone arrested and charged under this “vague” loitering law.

“Historical data shows that enforcement of this statute had primarily been used to arrest people based on their gender or appearance. Dismissing cases related to this unfair and now repealed statute frees members of our community from the collateral consequences of their arrests,” Katz said. “Instead of prosecuting these defendants, we need to provide a helping hand by connecting them with meaningful services, support options and the necessary tools that will assist them to safely exit the sex trade if that is what they choose to do.”

Katz officially put this request in for Queens Acting Supreme Court Justice Toko Serita to dismiss up to 146 cases in which outstanding warrants were issued against defendants charged with in relation to Penal Law 240.37, 84 cases in which someone was charged under this law and failed to appear in court, as well as 443 pending cases in which individuals were charged with prostitution outright.

Katz is requesting that these cases also be sealed to ensure that these defendants do not have criminal records in regard to these arrests.

Katz was elected to succeed Richard Brown in the role he held for decades after he fell ill and died.

But the campaign trail proved contentious with criminal justice reform being a heated topic between Katz and former public defender Tiffany Cabán who initially took the majority vote until a full recount landed in Katz’s favor. The former borough president was pressured by progressives to take her platform farther in the direction of ending mass incarceration of black and brown New Yorkers.

Despite creating a Conviction Integrity Unit and a Restorative Justice Bureau since January 2019, Katz has continued to battle critics who believe more should be done in terms of reform.