NYS prosecutors highlight issues with Discovery Act at Albany budget hearing

ALBANY — A key element of left-leaning criminal justice reforms has made New Yorkers less safe by dropping charges against accused criminals from Montauk to Buffalo because prosecutors are buried in paperwork demands that cannot be met.

Prosecutors detailed the law-and-order nightmare at a hearing on the bill in Albany, revealing to the public how so-called discovery reform is undermining local justice systems.

“I cannot emphasize the importance of funding for additional staff, staff training, updated technology and cloud storage, and other costs associated with the New York State Discovery Laws Revision,” J. Anthony Jordan, President of the District Attorneys Association of the state of New York, testified to lawmakers on Tuesday.

“The number of documents and the amount of electronic discoveries could be 20 to 30 times higher than in 2019,” he warned.

Hochul, in a red outfit, speaks in the red room at the State Capitol with staff in the background next to a budget powerpoint presentation
Gov. Kathy Hochul proposes $92 million in the upcoming state budget to help prosecutors comply with discovery reform and increase staffing levels.

Jordan’s statement adds mounting pressure on Albany Democrats to revise 2019 discovery reforms as well as controversial bail limits through the state budget due April 1.

Under the discovery changes, prosecutors are now required to present all evidence related to alleged felonies and misdemeanors within 20 to 35 days of the indictment.

That has created manpower and financial challenges for district attorneys across the state to prepare documents for defense attorneys, whether it’s processing police camera footage, blacking out personal information from medical records, or blurring bystanders in surveillance footage.

Photo of the Chamber's balcony with red carpet, lots of seating and fancy woodwork on the ceiling
Dems in Albany remain under pressure to roll back bail and criminal justice reforms.
POOL/AFP via Getty Images

“It has been estimated that for every 100 body-worn cameras on the street, a prosecutor’s office requires one additional employee, not to mention the cost of storage,” Jordan said.

“Video files are large and processing these files will result in a 25 percent increase in staff, including investigators, [assistant district attorneys]IT staff and others.”

The spate of documents has prompted a surge in dropped charges, with the rate of cases dropped in New York City rising from 44% in 2019 to 69% as of mid-October 2021, according to a recent report by the Manhattan Institute.

Gov. Kathy Hochul did not propose any significant changes to the investigative rules in the budget proposal she presented on Feb. 1

However, the newly elected governor is proposing new funding of $52 million to help prosecutors meet investigative needs, plus another $40 million to help those outside of New York City, hundreds of additional prosecutors set.

Defense attorneys at Tuesday’s hearing spoke out in favor of controversial criminal justice reforms like the detection changes, adding that they were “shocked” they weren’t receiving similar funding.

“I want to note that a large percentage of the clients that we serve and represent are black and brown people who are disproportionately represented in the systems that we operate in,” Lisa Schreibersdorf of Brooklyn Defenders Services told lawmakers in her statement. “Not only do we fight to ensure that each individual client achieves the best outcome in their case, but we also work to change the laws that contribute to injustice and racial injustice.”

However, Jordan emphasized how the resumption of jury trials following pandemic shutdowns has created a uniquely dire situation for prosecutors that must be resolved in the state budget by April 1.

“As we have addressed the COVID backlog and the increase in criminal activity, the strains of complying with investigations have been particularly recognized [assistant district attorneys] Return to coverage of in-person court appearances. This has triggered an immediate, sustained, permanent and significant funding need for additional staff,” he said.

https://nypost.com/2023/02/07/nys-prosecutors-highlight-discovery-law-problems-at-albany-budget-hearing/ NYS prosecutors highlight issues with Discovery Act at Albany budget hearing


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