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Senate Democrats to host hearings and address concerns about new evidence sharing laws

2019-09-02

New York Sen. Jamaal T. Bailey during a legislative session in the Senate Chamber, June 20, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. (Hans Pennink/AP)

ALBANY — Senate Democrats want to ensure prosecutors are fully prepared for the sweeping changes coming to the state’s criminal justice system.

Lawmakers are set to host a pair of hearings on a new rule that will require district attorneys to share evidence, known as discovery, at the earliest stages of a criminal case.

Sen. Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx) said he’s heard concerns about the change, which goes into effect in January 2020, specifically about the short window in which grand jury testimony and police reports must be turned over. Prosecutors will have 15 days following an indictment to hand over all evidence to defense attorneys.

“As the chair of the codes committee I felt it was my responsibility to have a hearing, to hear out, how can we make sure that this works efficiently,” Bailey told the Daily News.

Currently, prosecutors can wait until a jury is selected and a trial is about to begin before turning over discovery material to the defense. Advocates for reform have long argued that the so-called “blindfold law” permitting the delay makes it difficult for anyone accused of a crime to prepare an adequate defense.

For years, district attorneys blocked efforts to reform evidence sharing laws in New York, arguing it would put witnesses and victims in danger.

The discovery reform was part of broad criminal justice changes Democrats passed in the state budget earlier this year that also included the elimination of cash bail for most low-level crimes and measures speeding up the time it takes cases to go to trial.

While the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York staunchly opposed the changes made in the budget, top prosecutors in the five boroughs have said they will abide by the law.

“We are pleased that the Senate Codes Committee is interested in hearing from all stakeholders involved in the discovery process and we hope that adequate resources will be devoted to making sure these new laws are successful and benefit all New Yorkers,” the prosecutors association president, Orange County DA David Hoovler said.

“I look forward to continued discussions with our lawmakers.”

DAs in the city all agree that they will need to see an increase in funds to fulfill the new requirement as the legislation didn’t include any additional funding for pre-trial services or discovery sharing.

During a May trip to City Hall, acting Queens District Attorney John Ryan asked for about $1.5 million in additional funds to handle the added work. Bronx DA Darcel Clark said her office would need roughly $610,000 to add 10 detectives to protect witnesses from intimidation.

Bailey said he regularly hosts criminal justice roundtables in his Bronx district and wants to open up the conversation to a wider crowd.

“We have to make sure that we do it right and these hearings will ensure that all impacted parties, from defense attorneys, to prosecutors, to police — anybody that has a stake in the justice system — has their concerns addressed," he said.