Queens judge dismisses nearly 700 prostitution cases following DA’s request

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz accepted the resignation of Homicide Bureau Chief Brad Leventhal on Monday, March 29, 2021. (Photo by Mark Hallum)

Following a request from Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, a Queens judge dismissed and sealed nearly 700 alleged prostitution and prostitution-related cases on Tuesday, March 16.

The dismissal of the cases by Queens Acting Supreme Court Justice Toko Serita comes several weeks after the state Legislature repealed Penal Law 240.37. Often referred to as the “walking while trans” law, the law allowed for police to make an alleged prostitution arrest based on a person’s clothing or gender identity. The law largely resulted in the targeting of trans women of color.

The law was struck down following years of advocacy from trans women of color and activists.

“Historical data shows that enforcement of this statute had primarily been used to arrest people based on their gender or appearance,” Katz said. “Dismissing cases related to this unfair and now repealed statute frees members of our community from the collateral consequences of their arrests.”

The bulk of the dismissed cases – 443 cases – were those in which defendants had outstanding warrants on pending cases charging prostitution, according to the DA.

Around 150 of the dismissed cases were those in which 240.37 was charged, and around 85 of the dismissed cases were those in which 240.37 was charged and the defendant failed to appear after pleading guilty.

Judge Serita thanked Katz for making the “righteous decision,” to advocate for the dismissal of the cases.

Tiffany Cabán, Katz’s opponent in the 2019 Democratic primary for Queens DA, made decriminalizing sex work a central promise of her campaign.

Since taking office in January 2020, Katz has not prosecuted anyone charged under the former “walking while trans” law.

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