A sea change is coming for the city’s police and prosecutors that will force them to adjust a range of current practices in the face of a series of criminal justice reforms kicking in on Jan. 1.
The state laws dealing with bail reform are aimed at reducing both the number of people held in jail and the amount of time they are held, following many years of cases in which people languished on Rikers Island and elsewhere for years waiting for their day in court.
A second set of laws involves changes to discovery rules, which address a series of long-held concerns that law enforcement had an unfair advantage in prosecutions, is also slated to go into effect at the start of 2020.
Under the bail reform laws passed in Albany in April, bail for misdemeanors is eliminated, except for six crimes and violating orders of protection. Remands for misdemeanors are barred.
Bail and pretrial detention is also eliminated for most non-violent felonies, with the exception of witness tampering, murder conspiracy, domestic violence cases, crimes against kids, sex crimes and terror cases.
Bail and detention is allowed pretrial in violent felonies, expect for certain burglary and robbery charges. It is eliminated for all class A drug felonies, except for major drug trafficking.
The Center for Court Innovation estimates that just 10% of the 205,000 criminal cases in the city in 2018 would be eligible for bail and detention under the new law.
The discovery reform law will have a similar, far-reaching effect. Grand jury proceedings will no longer be secret. Prosecutors must turn over their evidence to defense council within 15 days after arraignment. There are exceptions and a provision that grants a 30-day extension.
The defense will also get names and contact information from anyone who has relevant information about a case, names and assignment of all police officers involved, and every witness statement, even those the prosecutor does not plan to call to the stand. Criminal lawyers are also entitled to all electronic recordings.
Prosecutors have three days before a plea deal expires to reveal what evidence they have against someone.
Police evidence delays are no longer an excuse for prosecutors to hand over matters to the defense.
If prosecutors want to introduce evidence of over crimes, they to turn it over 15 days before a trial starts.
Meanwhile, the defense has 30 days to turn over its case to the state.
In sensitive cases, the prosecution can ask a judge for a protective order but they have to show a good reason. The court has to hold a hearing within three days of the request and rule.
The law also allows defendants to visit crime scenes to build their defense. For that reason, the court can also order the crime scene to remain unchanged.