State prosecutors: new rules of evidence strain the system | News, Sports, Jobs

ALBANY — A revised state law dealing with the handling of evidence in criminal cases is straining the resources of county attorneys, say representatives of the New York State District Attorneys Association.

Controversial changes to New York’s bail laws have dominated the criminal justice debate in recent months.

But prosecutors say the Legislature will also need to consider bolstering financial support for their offices to comply with the Discovery Act’s new responsibilities for the rapid transfer of records and evidence to defense attorneys.

Law of discovery

The Discovery Act was overhauled in 2019, with lawmakers saying they wanted to create a fairer criminal justice system for people facing criminal charges.

Now the number of documents and filings prosecutors must turn over to defense attorneys within five weeks of an arraignment is at least 20 times what was required to be released in 2019, according to the Washington County prosecutor. , Anthony Jordan, president of the association.

“As you can guess, each district attorney’s office needs significantly more staff, both legal and support, to deal with this increased volume of discoveries,” Jordan told lawmakers during a hearing dealing with the public protection segment of Governor Kathy Hochul’s proposed $216 billion state budget.

Duties include reviewing and redacting medical records, reviewing video footage to blur license plates and faces of bystanders, and hiring and training additional staff to prepare evidence. Many counties simply lack the resources to pay for these additional responsibilities, Jordan said.

Pandemic slowdown

The pandemic has triggered a slowdown in courthouse activity, easing some of the pressure on prosecutors to produce discovery briefs, he acknowledged. But as prosecutors begin to cover arraignments and other court appearances again, district attorneys must “continuous, significant and permanent funding” in the next budget deal, Jordan pointed out.

Earlier at the forum, New York Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks was peppered with questions attempting to get his perspective on whether judges should have the discretion to jail defendants appearing before them on the basis of “dangerousness” considerations.

New York, following recent bail law changes, is the only state in the nation where judges are not allowed to consider public safety risks when bailing out.

Marks acknowledged that the judges, as a group, favored more bail latitude. He also said that judges generally believe they can make these decisions “fairly and efficiently”.

But he expressed reluctance to give his own opinion on the matter.

Hybrid lands

The issue of bail has again come to the fore in the criminal justice policy debate following comments by newly elected New York City Mayor Eric Adams that the legislature should restore the ability of judges to dismiss criminals. defendants whose release they believe would endanger the public.

Marks also suggested in his testimony that so-called hybrid courts — intertwining virtual proceedings with in-person proceedings — will continue in New York after the pandemic ends.

Keeping a cap on the number of people in courthouses helped curb what sometimes looked like “cattle calls”, he said.

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