This year’s New York State budget passed earlier this month with the most sweeping criminal justice reforms in at least a generation. The changes go into effect in 2020 and will change almost everything about defending people in New York State cases, where the vast majority of arrests in New York are handled. How will they affect your case? Read on.
First, “Discovery Reform” will replace the New York “Blindfold Law.” Under the current system, defense lawyers learn only what DAs want to tell them abut the case until the moment before trial. Under the new rules, starting on January 1, 2020, discovery is going to be “open, early and automatic.” That means that prosecutors will have to hand over all information about the case “as soon as practicable” but not more than 15 days after the defendant is arraigned, at least in most cases. And discovery is much broader than it ever was, including not just trial exhibits but also all witness statements, all grand jury minutes (not just of testifying witnesses), names and contact information for all potential witnesses, exculpatory information, and pretty much anything else in a prosecutor’s file. If you are being charged with a felony, you get your own statements at least 48 hours before the grand jury presentation–that can give you a chance to testify in the grand jury without worrying about getting tripped up by a statement you made previously to a detective. Perhaps most importantly, if the DA makes a plea offer, you are entitled to full discovery before the DA can withdraw the plea offer. Prosecutors cannot condition the plea offer on a waiver of discovery rights. No longer will defense lawyers ask for discovery during plea negotiations only to be told, sarcastically, “your client knows what he did.” Click the link for Part LLL of Chapter 59 of the New York State Laws of 2019, the full text of the new New York criminal discovery rules.
Second, you have a much better chance of getting released while your case is pending under New York state’s new bail rules. There will be mandatory release for all misdemeanors and non-violent felonies–except, of course, sex offenses (and cases involving contempt of domestic violence court orders). For more serious offenses, the court can only set money bail with the least restrictive conditions and with at least three options or ways to pay: cash, unsecured bond, and partially secured bond. Electronic monitoring can be used to prevent flight in serious cases, but you won’t have to pay for it and there are many limitations. If the court sets a monetary bail, it will have to consider the defendant’s ability to pay and any undue hardship, and it put its reasoning on the record. As a practical matter, the reforms should lead to fewer thoughtless decisions over bail that needlessly separate people from their families even though they are presumed to be innocent. Click the link for Part JJJ of Chapter 59 of the New York State Laws of 2019, which shows the amendments to the bail rules and Desk Appearance Ticket provisions.