tali farhadian weinstein

Tali Farhadian Weinstein is a self-styled “progressive prosecutor”, a claim easily contradicted by her track record and her campaign proposals. She has amassed a resume of well-regarded, elite positions in public service, resulting in a campaign supported by wealthy donors and peppered with famous endorsements. In her campaign materials, she holds herself out to be a “national expert on the transformation of local prosecution happening around the country today”, but in our interview professed absolute comfort with the status quo, to the extent she understood it. We have significant concerns about her propensity to cause harm to Black and brown communities in Manhattan.

Farhadian Weinstein clerked for Sandra Day O’Connor and Merrick Garland, was counsel to former Attorney General Eric Holder, worked as a federal prosecutor, and, most recently, was an executive in the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. Much of Farhadian Weinstein’s experience is in the federal system rather than in state prosecutions and this was clear throughout her interview. For a national expert she lacked a practical understanding of the impact of local prosecutions on communities most impacted by the policies and practices of Vance’s office. She also claimed to not be familiar with many of those well-known policies and practices because she had never practiced in Manhattan. Whatever the reason, it was clear she had significant gaps in her understanding, a troubling oversight for a person running on a promise to reform the office. Her plans would make her a carceral prosecutor steeped in regressive policies from sentencing to bail, to her potential expansion of the DA’s personnel and budget to support the “expensive” reforms she plans to implement.

Farhadian Weinstein seeks to incorporate many of the most insidious tools of mass incarceration and criminalization in her prosecutorial approach. She would borrow sentencing policies from her federal practice that amount to a trial tax, has a willingness to prosecute cases despite the wishes of a victim, and would continue to prosecute crimes stemming from poverty, mental illness, and substance use. Although she touts reform initiatives that she worked on in Brooklyn, the reality of these programs — such as the gun part and its associated alternative to incarceration programs — too often further entangle people in the criminal punishment system. During our interview, she generally refused to make categorical commitments which we presented as solutions for systemic change and made clear a desire to maintain the discretionary ability to prosecute low-level offenses. Unlike most other candidates, she does not have a list of charges she will decline to prosecute.

One particular area of concern was Farhadian Weinstein’s positions on race and policing. Her approach to racism seems academic; while she does agree that racism in the criminal punishment system exists, as evidenced by data, she would not dismantle any of the systemic mechanisms that perpetrate racism in state prosecutions. She indicated that her office would continue to use the NYPD’s widely-discredited rogue Gang Database as an investigatory tool and potential basis for bail enhancements and voiced support for current gang policing practices, which are abusive and racist in application. She would continue to use conspiracy charges against young New Yorkers, which would inevitably result in unjust dragnet prosecutions such as that of the Bronx 120. Throughout the interview, we noted several other red flags regarding her attitude towards the NYPD. Despite the disbanding of the Anti-Crime Unit in June 2020, public calls to disband the Vice Unit, and rigorous critique of the Strategic Response Group, Farhadian Weinstein could not name a single unit within the NYPD that was problematic. 

Farhadian Weinstein made clear that she does not believe the criminal punishment system is fundamentally and irreparably broken, but rather that it simply needs ethical prosecutors operating within it — a model that has repeatedly failed to bring the sort of transformative change so desperately needed. She is clearly knowledgeable about the critiques of the criminal punishment system and current national reform trends, but makes no commitments to how she would implement any actual changes at the local level. She lacks basic familiarity with fundamental aspects of this office, such as the DA’s relationship with the pro-carceral District Attorney Association of New York or current policies and practices under Vance’s leadership that are publicly criticized. Her proposed reforms amount to tinkering around the edges of the Manhattan DA’s functions without fundamentally changing the scope or abusive day-to-day operations of the office.

She will neither decrease the power of the District Attorney’s office nor the number of people trapped in its scope.  She has considerable propensity to inflict significant harm on Black and brown communities.

 

Defunding the DA and Prosecutorial Accountability 

 

Farhadian Weinstein would not commit to reducing staff or declining funding from the City Council as crime rates decrease, and she characterized this idea as “reductive.” She even indicated that the DA’s already outsized budget may actually increase because her reforms may be costly. While she believes there is a need for cultural change and reform, she seeks to achieve this through staffing decisions rather than systemic changes.  She did agree that conviction rates are not a good metric for success and would evaluate staff based on respect, constitutional obligations, discovery compliance, quality writing, and conduct in negotiations.  She would commit to sharing office policies and memos for the sake of transparency and accountability.  

Farhadian Weinstein would increase prosecutions for what she calls gender-based violence, sexual assault, domestic violence, gender-based hate crimes, gun violence, and white collar crimes. Increasing prosecutions with an eye towards a carceral approach only exacerbates social inequities. Addressing “gender-based” violence through this lens too often harms poor women of color in a system that is historically hostile to them, making them less safe.  Protecting women and other marginalized communities should be accomplished by diverting resources away from prosecutions that seek to only reinforce mass incarceration, and toward community resources that center the needs of anyone who has experienced violence or harm.

  

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

Farhadian Weinstein agrees the criminal punishment system is racist and as a supporter of a data-driven approach to accountability she would compile and release data on racial disparities stemming from policing and prosecutions. However, the only specific instance of disproportionate prosecution she named was for marijuana charges. She noted the use of artificial intelligence in San Francisco to eliminate racial bias in charging decisions, however she did not commit to employing it, instead commenting that it was an interesting strategy that might cost money.  

Tellingly, when asked if she would commit to not using peremptory challenges, which systematically exclude Black jurors, Farhadian Weinstein was shocked at the request. She simply believed that assistant district attorneys should not be conducting themselves in a racist manner.

She would continue to prosecute and reinforce racist “gang” policing and prosecutions that systematically target and incarcerate Black and brown men. She would continue to employ surveillance tools, which she acknowledges can be abused, but maintains that the solution is to have ethical prosecutors at the helm. This is representative of her prosecutorial attitude where retaining power with the “right” people will cure the ills of the criminal punishment system without any understanding that personal behaviors do not undo rooted, systemic racist policies. 

 

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

Farhadian Weinstein commits to prosecuting police not only for violence but also perjury and touts the Brooklyn “do not call” list as being the first office to release such a list. It is worth noting that at its inception, this list only included seven names and excluded many notoriously problematic officers. She supported the repeal of 50-A (a statute that kept police misconduct records from the public) and believes in the ethical obligation to evaluate police credibility at each stage of the case. She does not believe an independent unit to prosecute offices is necessary because according to her, officers are not as embedded in the office as they are in smaller jurisdictions. Despite public outcry about the abusive and violent actions of the NYPD, she could not identify a single NYPD unit as troubling. 

   

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

Regarding bail and pretrial detention, Farhadian Weinstein identifies systemic issues with cash bail, but once again refuses to take steps beyond what is required by law to rectify those problems, saying, “I don’t think I’ve pledged to never use cash bail, so much as to say I pledge to support legislation that ends cash bail.” She suggests that she would support replacing cash bail with a risk assessment tool, and despite agreeing that risk assessments have human bias, she hopes we can one day transcend such bias. 

She would not commit to offering preliminary hearings but did commit to evaluating their  potential benefits as they have been used during the pandemic in Brooklyn when it was not safe to convene grand juries. 

 

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

Farhadian Weinstein refuses to commit to even the most rudimentary steps to remove people with a mental illness, substance use disorder, or living in poverty from the criminal punishment system. While saying, “if you don’t address mental health, you aren’t addressing public safety,” she indicated she would continue challenging findings of incompetency, prosecuting minor drug possession, and punishing a person for relapse with incarceration. While she repeatedly indicated that she would evaluate all of these situations on a case-by-case basis, the fact that Farhadian Weinstein could not agree to the most basic of progressive policies, like declining to prosecute simple drug possession, suggests that she will not be progressive on a case-by-case basis either.

While she does support safe-injection sites, she does not support the legalization of any other drug besides marijuana, and does not support the Treatment Not Jails Act.   

 

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

Farhadian Weinstein said her guiding principle is parsimony and wants people to go to prison for as short as absolutely necessary to fulfill the goals of the criminal punishment system. She does not expand upon what those goals are, how they are assessed, and seems to presume  that incarceration is necessary. Interestingly, she acknowledges that sentences are often too long and harsh and identified sentencing as the “next frontier for criminal justice reform.” She offers no solution to reduce sentences on the front end, but would rather rely on excessive sentence claims made post-sentencing. She is unwilling to commit to implementing such reforms through the power of the office, including declining to use New York’s version of the 3-strikes law. She will continue to pursue jail sentences on some misdemeanor charges, and request consecutive sentencing because the law allows it.

She expressed support for the concept of restorative justice and said she was interested in using it. She also held up the Brooklyn gun court as a model for diversion programs she intends to bring to Manhattan. Unfortunately, practitioners in Brooklyn have found the requirements of this diversion program so rigid and demanding that it is virtually impossible for a young person to successfully graduate. Participants are required to plead guilty upfront to a state prison term, so this “diversion” court becomes another driver of incarceration and not its alternative.

Throughout our interview, we asked Farhadian Weinstein about various charging and sentencing practices of Vance’s office. She avoided commenting on these policies by saying that she was “unfamiliar” with them as she has not practiced in Manhattan. When contextualized, she frequently stated she would avoid blanket policies and evaluate on a case-by-case basis.  She would take into account adverse immigration consequences when offering plea negotiations.  

 

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

Farhadian Weinstein agrees that the “process shouldn’t be a punishment.” She hopes that the court system has learned from the pandemic how to reduce the impact of the criminal legal process on people who are accused of crimes. She has a strong commitment to keeping ICE out of the courthouse and has in fact, sued ICE in the past. She is committed to the spirit of open file discovery and not just the letter of the law.  

Despite these positive positions, perhaps the most regressive of all of Farhadian Weinstein’s comments came in response to a question about the trial tax, (seeking an increased sentence after a guilty verdict) when she stated, “Coming from federal there can be some difference. As an ethical framework there is room for some discount for accepting responsibility.” Any prosecutor who is comfortable utilizing the trial tax fundamentally lacks a commitment to the presumption of innocence, and sees value in punishing a person for exercising their constitutional right to trial.  Further, this deeply antiquated and unconstitutional view shows that Farhadian Weinstein is at her core, a prosecutor fervently committed to carceral punishment disguised in progressive clothing. 

 

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

Farhadian Weinstein once again shows her allegiance to maintaining the criminal punishment  system with limited reforms, this time through the appellate process. While she presents her conviction integrity unit as a wide-ranging solution seeking unit, she also will continue to use numerous technical arguments, such as preservation and harmless error, to block review by a higher court. She will also continue to use appeal waivers to deny people access to justice at the appellate level. She would support applications for reduced sentencing, but she wants the power to decide who is worthy of their freedom.  

 

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