lucy lang

Lucy Lang is a career prosecutor who worked for twelve years in the Manhattan DA’s office as both an Assistant District Attorney and the Executive Director of the Manhattan DA Academy before moving in 2018 to direct the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College.  At John Jay, Lang was tasked with developing “the next generation of ideas and thought leaders in the field of prosecution,” and she worked with prosecutors, academics, law enforcement officials, and community leaders.  Her former boss, Cy Vance, as well as another member of his executive team in the DA’s office serve as co-chairs of the Institute’s advisory board.  

Despite Lang’s time at John Jay where she heard from incarcerated individuals directly impacted by overzealous prosecution, her plans fail to cede the power of the office she seeks. Lang operates from the position that the DA’s office and the criminal punishment system are the right tools to solve social issues. With this worldview, she does not plan to reduce the office’s staff or its enormous budget, or eliminate units that have been publicly criticized as unnecessary and problematic. Instead, her plans merely repackage the current practices with new language and partnerships that will only expand the reach of her office. Unlike other candidates, she does not have a list of crimes that she would decline to prosecute, opting to make those considerations on a case-by-case basis; her position fails to acknowledge the harmful impact of over-policing in Black and brown communities and does little to reduce it.

Lang is eager to use new tools and expand her power in ways that place Black and brown families in danger. In a recent op-ed, Lang claims that though domestic violence incidents are often unreported, advocacy groups and survivor hotlines have been flooded with calls during the pandemic. Her analysis fails to acknowledge that women, specifically women of color, do not report incidents to police and prosecutors because the criminal punishment system does not protect them or offer the services and outcomes they often seek. Furthermore, throughout the interview, Lang rarely discussed the role of racism within the system or the experiences of low-income people of color who are arrested and accused of crimes. She instead focused on her plans to use “human-centric language” and address accused people by their names, moving away from dehumanizing labels like “defendant.” While this is an improvement to the current practice, it does not address race-based stops, systemic prosecutorial racism, or the countless collateral consequences experienced by Black and brown communities. Using someone’s name as you endorse their racially-motivated arrest and pursue their racially-disproportionate prosecution is certainly not transformative change and would be “progressive” in name only. 

Lang does not believe that incarceration should be the default, but many of her proposals funnel people through the criminal punishment system to force services upon them. She fails to recognize the enormous harm that police contact and a pending criminal case wreaks in a person’s life, especially if the the DA concludes that they have “failed” a program. We find it troubling that Lang uses progressive language to disguise continued carceral actions, and that she professed ignorance of many practices of the Manhattan DA’s office even though she is only two years removed from her career there. Lang’s own website describes her as a criminal justice reform leader, but she struggled to acknowledge her own role in fueling mass incarceration as a career prosecutor. Throughout our interview, she distanced herself from the very office where she climbed through the ranks for twelve years. As a former high ranking member of Vance’s office and someone with close ties to him, it is clear that Lang is reaping the benefits of his institutional support while also trying to maintain public distance to avoid the critiques that come with that association.

Defunding the DA and Prosecutorial Accountability

Lang stated that she wants to transform the DA’s office so that prosecution is not the default; however, she did not commit to reducing the budget or staff or dismantling problematic units. She missed the mark on calls to defund the office, and instead cites waste in overtime for support staff. Instead of reducing the scope of her office, Lang wants it to play a larger role in connecting people to social services. Lang believes the Manhattan DA should continue to prosecute “violent” crimes, homicides, ongoing domestic violence, and major economic crimes, ensuring that a large portion of the office will continue to function as it does now.

Lang did recognize that some changes are necessary, and identified adjustments to office culture as a top priority. She will work to disincentivize using trial wins, indictments, and conviction rates as markers of success. Instead, she will define success as compliance with discovery obligations, thorough investigation, working closely with defense counsel, and undertaking projects to engage directly with the community. To ensure her staff is aligned with this viewpoint, she will re-interview all senior staff and take disciplinary action when any staff member engages in misconduct.  

Lang plans to create a “mission aligned diverse workforce,” and wants to implement anti-bias training for all staff, to promote the shared goal of ending mass incarceration. 

 

Rubric Category: Harmful approach: will maintain scope of power but redirect prosecutions, e.g., the “progressive prosecutor”

Combating Systemic Racism 

When discussing racism and racial disparities, Lang appears to understand the issues on a superficial level, but she was unable to identify the inherent racist nature of the criminal punishment system or propose a plan to address it. She acknowledged that in Manhattan the largest racial disparity exists between who is indicted and who is not. She will prioritize addressing this pre-indictment disparity but was not explicit in how she would address it. She does want to eliminate the arbitrariness of outcome for the same charges between different trial bureaus.

Lang committed to compiling and releasing data regarding racial disparities in all facets of policing and prosecution. However, she would not commit to ceasing the use of peremptory strikes, or to at least create a policy of never using a peremptory challenge to remove 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

In our discussion of the police, Lang once again relied on superficial fixes without addressing the inherent, deeply ingrained problems of the system. Lang did not identify specific police units she believed should be dismantled, and she plans to maintain a working relationship with the police.  She believes anti-bias training is sufficient to end the use of dehumanizing language by members of the NYPD. She will instruct her assistant district attorneys to cease practices that create public distrust, including calling officers to court on their days off so that the officer is paid overtime.

While she will maintain a list of police officers with misconduct issues, she had not thought about whether she would prosecute such cases or whether an independent prosecutor was appropriate. This lack of analysis is particularly alarming, not only because this topic has gained a national platform in recent years, but also because Lang has branded herself as a leader in prosecutorial reform work during her last two years at John Jay College. 

Lang believes that there is merit to using conspiracy charges for trafficking cases and violent crimes, but would not use it to “scoop up young people based on Facebook posts.” Despite this statement, she did not commit to dismantle (or cease to credit) the NYPD’s Criminal Group Database, also known as the Gang Database. Shockingly, Lang claimed ignorance of the database entirely, stating “there are numerous databases” and that she didn’t believe this one existed two years ago when she left the office (however, it does predate her departure from the office).

 

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 

 

Lang has pledged to end cash bail. She believes there are two myths about bail in NY State. First, that NY has cash bail at all. She pointed to the practice of District Attorneys asking for high cash bail rather than “having the guts” to request remand when the intent behind those requests is indefinite pre-trial detention. Second, that prosecutors and judges do not consider the person accused’s purported “dangerousness” in bail determinations: in reality, they merely dress up dangerousness in any discussion of a person’s likelihood of returning to court.

Lang stated that in contrast to these practices, she would not be afraid to request remand when she finds it appropriate. Lang did not provide much detail on when she would request remand and did not have a clear answer on whether she would support using risk assessments, saying only that she would follow the recommendation of academics. She is not opposed to electronic monitoring or other forms of pretrial supervision. She would continue the practice of requesting supervision on misdemeanor charges. Her answers on this topic seemed to indicate that her pledge to end cash bail is not in the service of low-income communities who cannot afford to buy their freedom, but rather in the service of assuming more power to supervise and jail legally innocent people.

 

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

While Lang believes that alternatives to incarceration (ATI) should be the default in prosecutions against people with a mental illness or a substance use disorder, she wants these programs to remain under the control of the District Attorney’s office.

Lang believes serious drug charges must be funneled through the DA’s office to ensure compliance with social services programming. Similarly, in cases where accused people have mental health issues, Lang expressed that it would be irresponsible to simply decline to prosecute because these individuals need mental health treatment and her office must ensure they receive it. 

In a step away from her former boss, Vance, Lang committed to not require a guilty plea in order to access ATI programs. She would also use an independent assessment to determine eligibility for treatment courts. She did not commit to end the practice of opposing findings of unfitness, and would also not commit to decline to prosecute cases that would ordinarily qualify for ATI.  

Lang hopes to “build towards” a model similar to the Portuguese approach and supports the legalization of all drugs for personal use. She committed to not indict officer-only-observed sales of small amounts, and she supports safe injection sites. Lang understands that relapse is often a part of drug treatment and does not consider it to be a failure. She would not seek prison for relapse, drug addiction, or any non-compliance resulting from mental illness or addiction.

 

Rubric Category: Harmful approach: will maintain scope of power but redirect prosecutions, e.g., the “progressive prosecutor”

Support for Decarceral Outcomes

With regards to charging decisions, Lang was open to changing course but failed to make firm commitments. She disagreed with categorically declining to prosecute certain offenses, but did recognize the harm in the continued prosecution of “broken windows” offenses and would work to vacate these convictions. 

Lang also recognized that it is unnecessary to prosecute the majority of manufactured and victimless crimes. She agreed that “bump up” charges (misdemeanor conduct charged as felonies) are not a necessary practice, but she will continue to use them in cases where repeated domestic violence is alleged. 

Lang supports ending mandatory minimums and reducing maximums, as well as repealing the predicate sentencing statute, which enhances penalties based on a person’s criminal history. But when asked about a sentencing cap, an issue that has been discussed nationally and by other candidates in the race, Lang did not have a number in mind.

Lang plans to create a specialty part for handling gun cases and hopes that trauma-informed judges will oversee those cases. She recognizes that much of the work of ending gun violence must take place within the communities that are impacted by it. Nevertheless, she put forth an aggressive plan that would increase police contact with Black and brown communities and expand opportunities for police to execute search warrants in people’s homes in hopes of finding guns.

 

Rubric Category: Harmful approach: will maintain scope of power but redirect prosecutions, e.g., the “progressive prosecutor”

Commitment to the Presumption of Innocence

While Lang committed to making some changes to daily courtroom practice, including referring to our clients by their names and proper pronouns and dismissing summonses that are more than a year old, she refused to make many of the changes that impact the fundamental fairness of proceedings. For example, Lang would continue the practice of seeking to cross-examine the accused person about prior bad acts unrelated to the current charges, a practice which impedes the accused person’s ability to exercise their right to testify to the charges against them.  Additionally, Lang attributed the regular practice of reducing an A misdemeanor charge (the highest level) to a B misdemeanor on the eve of trial (which, in NYC, eliminates the right to trial by jury and enables a judge to determine guilt) to a “resources issue,” rather than the obvious aim of depriving the accused person of a jury of their peers and putting the case before a prosecution-friendly judge.

Finally, Lang has developed an “equal access plan” meant to prevent the wealthy or powerful from having unequal access to the elected DA, seemingly responding to a common criticism of Cy Vance’s office.

 

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

Though Lang stated that she was open to investigating appellate issues further with her transition team, she will not deviate significantly from current harmful practices.

Lang will continue to raise technical bars to appellate review such as harmless error or lack of preservation on a case-by-case basis, though this avoids consideration of the issue on the merits. Additionally, she would not agree to support or at least not oppose excessive sentence arguments.

Lang did agree to not oppose defense arguments concerning Batson, which allege that a prosecutor excluded jurors of a specific race. 

Lang supports hate crime legislation and the message it sends, but is open to alternatives such as restorative justice or educational programs in lieu of sentencing enhancements. While Lang supported many of the legislative initiatives aimed at increasing fairness in the criminal process, she does not support the Juvenile Interrogation Bill, which would require juveniles under 18 years old to consult with a defense attorney prior to any waiver of their rights.

 

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