diana florence

Diana Florence is a career prosecutor with a strong vision to redirect the District Attorney’s priorities to focus on crimes committed by the powerful, monied and elite such as wage theft, landlord violations, and crimes of sexual violence. Florence worked for the Manhattan District Attorney for 25 years and eventually became the head of the Construction Fraud Task Force. She elaborates on her experience at the office, saying, “I was an outsider and I used the criminal law in innovative ways to go after what I call crimes of power.” Florence believes in re-directing, but not decreasing, the power of the District Attorney’s office. It is also impossible to discuss her candidacy without addressing her early 2020 resignation subsequent to a failure to disclose Brady evidence during a major prosecution


Despite her career in the office, Florence claimed a limited understanding of current practices within the trial bureaus in the District Attorney’s office, particularly those practices that cause the most harm to low-income and Black and brown communities, thereby raising concerns as to whether she truly understands the steps needed to achieve her goals. She supports only modest reforms, such as expanding alternatives to incarceration programs, internal restructuring, and diversion for simple drug possession. Florence seems open to considering changes in the prosecution of more serious charges, but only on a case-by-case basis rather than through systemic reform. This is especially troubling because her lack of recent experience with the trial bureaus and controversial resignation may make it easier for prosecutors to defy her vision, a common problem for reform-minded prosecutors.

We find Florence’s commitment to pursuing labor violations and similar crimes genuine and backed by a proven track record. However, we strongly disagree with her belief that the criminal punishment system is a solution to public health problems such as substance use or mental health conditions. While highlighting her past work prosecuting crimes affecting working class immigrants, Florence also said she would continue to prosecute gang conspiracies, request incarceration on misdemeanor cases, and continue to prosecute low-level drug sales. In this sense, her positions reflect the general worldview of a typical prosecutor. Although her positions are marginally less harmful than Vance’s, we find it unlikely her office would take meaningfully bold or transformative stances.

Defunding the DA and Prosecutorial Accountability

Florence would not commit to reducing the office’s staff or budget. While she initially said she would prefer to not cut the office’s budget and instead divert extra money to community programs, she later said it made more sense to delegate this task to the city or an independent body.

Florence committed to dismantling the Quality of Life Unit but not the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor. This reflects her commitment to very limited reforms that do not decrease the overall power or reach of the office. 

In addressing her resignation, Florence contends her Brady violation was due to a lack of support for her work within Vance’s office. She says that understaffing led to an oversight and her failure to turn over evidence to defense counsel. Florence explains that she will use her experience to ensure that no Assistant District Attorneys are put in a similar position. However, her experience may make her less inclined to reprimand prosecutors for unintentional, but nevertheless illegal, misconduct. 

 


Rubric Category: Most harmful approach: will continue to wield power and unfettered scope of the office with little change from current practice

Combating Systemic Racism

Florence started this section stating, “I think for too long we’ve been very defensive and closed to the idea that there is a problem. I think that’s a general problem beyond the DA’s office with white people.”  But throughout the remainder of the interview she offered troublingly little reflection on race and racism.  Her primary plan to combat prosecutorial racism centered on changing hiring practices at the DA’s office, primarily by increasing hiring assistant district attorneys from CUNY School of Law to recruit “diversity of thought.” More diversity in hiring will not combat the systemic racism perpetuated by prosecutors, and her proposal betrays a lack of insight into a deeply rooted problem. 

As was the pattern in our interview, Florence committed to embracing limited reforms, such as not requesting a no-knock warrant and supporting legislation to allow people with felony convictions to serve on juries, but refused more systemic reforms such as declining to use peremptory strikes, which are often used to exclude Black jurors.

 

Rubric Category: Most harmful approach: will continue to wield power and unfettered scope of the office with little change from current practice

Policing the Police 

policing the police logo

Florence says both, “The police are a necessary part of the law enforcement structure. They’re not our partners and they’re not our adversaries,” and, “We need to treat police officers as we would treat any other witness.” While this attitude is certainly a significant improvement over Vance’s cozy, symbiotic relationship with the NYPD, we are concerned that Florence does not see the depth or breadth of the problems within the NYPD.

Florence will not work with officers with credibility issues and will prosecute criminal behavior by the police. However, she did not commit to recording conversations with police witnesses and turning them over to the defense, an important measure for ensuring accountability outside of the courtroom.

While Florence agreed that the gang database needs to be dismantled, she still intends to prosecute gang-related charges and to use alleged gang affiliations in pretrial supervision requests and sentencing recommendations.

 

Rubric Category: Most harmful approach: will continue to wield power and unfettered scope of the office with little change from current practice

Abolishing Cash Bail and Pretrial Detention

Florence came out strongly against cash bail, saying, “I believe we need to abolish cash bail in all cases,” but she is not committed to ending pretrial detention and supervision. While she repeatedly and emphatically stated that bail is to ensure a person’s return to court, she would not commit to preliminary hearings (an early test of evidence in felony cases) or to never requesting bail or supervision on misdemeanors.

 

Rubric Category: Most harmful approach: will continue to wield power and unfettered scope of the office with little change from current practice

Ending the Criminalization of Poverty, Mental Illness, and Substance  Use

Florence understands that the criminal system penalizes people with a mental illness or substance use disorder, saying “We need to be recognizing once and for all that mental health is not a crime.”  

However, her solution is not to remove people with mental health issues from the criminal punishment system, but rather to expand services, diversion programs, court based-treatment, and other alternatives to incarceration. Florence specifically cites low-level drug possession as a case where she would prefer a program over “3 days on Rikers.” While preferable to incarceration, diversion is an expansion of law enforcement reach and operates with the ever-looming threat of incarceration and criminal prosecution.

Florence’s understanding and stated intentions surrounding substance use and mental illness would be a significant improvement over Vance, but her proposals, if implemented, would likely increase the number of people ensnared in the criminal punishment system. 

 

Rubric Category: Most harmful approach: will continue to wield power and unfettered scope of the office with little change from current practice

 

Support for Decarceral Outcomes and Sentencing

 

 

Throughout our interview, Florence maintained the philosophy that she “does not believe in one size fits all” when discussing charging and sentencing. While this seems reasonable, it simply means that people charged with crimes will remain at the mercy of whatever individual Assistant DAs believe is appropriate, again highlighting that Florence will not commit to meaningful structural change. 

Florence said “nothing should be lifetime” when discussing the sex offender registry, but she does not agree to combating life sentences by embracing a sentencing cap or ending the use of New York’s “three strikes” lifetime sentencing enhancements. While she agreed to support legislation to raise the maximum age for mandatory criminal prosecution to 21, she would not commit to always allowing children under the age of 18 to have their cases heard in family court. Florence agreed that people have an “amazing capacity to change” but would not agree to support legislation to end predicate sentencing, which enhances penalties based on a person’s criminal history.

 

Rubric Category: Most harmful approach: will continue to wield power and unfettered scope of the office with little change from current practice

Commitment to the Presumption of Innocence 

During our interview, Florence seemed open to collaboration with the defense bar to alleviate the inherent punishment that is part of the criminal punishment system prior to conviction. However, it was clear she does not have a strong vision of her own and has not given this area significant consideration. When discussing specific proposals, Florence seemed focused on creating increased efficiency in the courtroom through changed logistics and procedures. While we were pleased Florence committed to ending the “trial tax,” her history as a career prosecutor leaves us skeptical as to whether she would undertake any meaningful reform without the aggressive advocacy of the defense bar.

 

Rubric Category: Most harmful approach: will continue to wield power and unfettered scope of the office with little change from current practice

Correcting Past Harms

 

Once again, Florence committed to limited changes within the District Attorney’s office without conceding any of its structural power. She pledged to reorganize the existing Conviction Integrity Unit and include attorneys who have never worked with the DA’s office. She also envisions expanding the scope of the Unit to include more robust review of convictions upon request, including misdemeanor convictions. Florence supports a variety of pending criminal justice reform bills. 

Despite this, Florence would not categorically end some of Vance’s most destructive practices. Amongst areas of concern, she would not end the blanket requirement that people waive their right to appeal at the time of a plea, and would continue to oppose defense counsel’s arguments about excessive sentencing and racial bias in jury pools.

 

Rubric Category: Most harmful approach: will continue to wield power and unfettered scope of the office with little change from current practice