Most people think of New York State as a bastion of liberalism and being “soft-on-crime.” In fact, New York has one of the worst sets of rules when it comes to providing discovery to people accused of crimes. An organization I am affiliated with called It Can Happen to You (ITCHY) which traditionally has supported those wrongfully accused of crimes, has put together a coalition of organizations, lawyers and exonerees to help persuade Albany to pass meaningful discovery reform. They are calling the bill “Repeal the Blindfold” and have set up a wonderful website to provide information on the issue.
New York state lags far behind the discovery laws and practices of the rest of the country. Over the past thirty years, MOST OTHER STATES have passed discovery laws that provide the accused with critical information early in the case. Yes, even Texas. In 2013, Texas enacted widespread and comprehensive discovery reform.
In NY, most of the police reports, Grand Jury testimony and other pieces of critical evidence are only turned over right before jury selection. Folks accused of crimes go through the vast majority of the criminal justice process without knowing anything about the evidence being used against them. They are then forced to decide whether to plead guilty or go to trial essentially blindfolded. And while we would like to blame overzealous prosecutors and bad judges for this, we can’t – it’s simply the law in NY. It’s the way the system is designed to work.
That has to change. Early and open discovery benefits everyone. Faced with the evidence against them, guilty people will plead quicker. Lawyers will be able to explain the risks and benefits of trial to their clients with support from documents and not just what a prosecutor told them the evidence was. The innocent can better contest what evidence there is against them and have a greater chance of beating the case. Less wrongful convictions, quicker and fairer plea deals, and a more streamlined criminal justice system are all the result of open discovery.
Recently, the New York State Senate was given a Democratic majority by the 2018 elections, joining the already Democratic Assembly and Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. Since January 2019, the NYS Senate has proven to be ready, willing and bale to move forward progressive legislation that had been stalled in gridlock by the GOP-controlled Senate. So there is no time like the present to move these bills forward and place them on Governor Cuomo’s desk for signature. Every other criminal justice reform proposal should be put on hold until this becomes law. It will be the biggest and most important criminal justice reform in NY in 40 years.
If you live in NY, call your Senator and Assemblymember. Tell them to support Senate Bill S1716 and Assembly Bill A1431 and open up NY’s antiquated and harmful discovery rules.
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