I represented a client charged with a major felony. Rather than accept a plea bargain, which would have required substantial jail time, my client chose to have a trial. There I sat at the defense table waiting for the trial to begin. Moments before the District Attorney began presenting his case, I was handed a thick package of “discovery” material which included Grand Jury testimony, Police Reports, Police Logs and Arrest Reports. I actually was given only a few minutes to determine if any of the “discovery items” contained information which would prove helpful to my client. This was not only prejudicial against my client but also affected his ability to decide whether or not to accept a “plea bargain”. It was reported by the New York Times that the Discovery Rules in New York State “have long been some of the most restrictive in the nation.” New York State’s Discovery law remained behind the times for over 40 years. Every time legislation was introduced to change the rules, the District Attorneys’ in New York argued that providing defense counsel with witness information would put those witnesses in danger of harassment or violence. However, when Democrats gained control of both chambers in the State Legislature, the road was open for new Discovery rules to be enacted.
The new rules which went into effect in January of 2020 eliminate the need for defense attorneys to file requests for Discovery and require that a wide range of information including Grand Jury testimony and Police reports, be turned over automatically 15 days after an indictment. The new rules also require the defense counsel to turn over some evidence to the prosecution. The new rules “level the playing field” and allow defendants and their attorneys to make wiser decisions about whether or not to proceed to trial or accept a plea deal.
“Fair is Fair” under the new rules.
Additionally, in April, 2019 New York State passed sweeping criminal justice reform that eliminates money bail and pretrial detention for nearly all misdemeanor and nonviolent felony defendants. Many groups and individuals voiced grave concern about “bail reform” expressing fear that early release posed a threat to the community. As of January 22, 2020 Governor Cuomo announced that these provisions will be once again be reviewed. Stay tuned.