Understanding Discovery Reform in New York

Understanding Discovery Reform in New York

Prior to January 1, 2020, the state of New York put defendants at a severe disadvantage through so-called “blindfold” discovery laws. In the past, while defense could request crucial pieces of evidence from the prosecution (a process called discovery), prosecutors were free to hold on to much of that evidence until the very day of the trial.

While defense lawyers could conduct their own investigations, defendants were always kept in the dark, unsure about the strength of the prosecution’s case. Prosecutors would often use this uncertainty to leverage defendants into plea bargains.

This year, everything has changed with the introduction of “automatic discovery.”

Understanding Automatic Discovery

Under the new automatic discovery law, defense attorneys no longer need to make written demands to obtain and review evidence. Instead, the prosecution must allow the defendant to “discover, inspect, copy, photograph, and test” all of the prosecutor’s case-related materials.

The new laws also set a new timeframe for discovery: the prosecution must turn over all discoverable materials no later than 15 days after the arraignment, giving you and your defense team plenty of time to go over the materials. The prosecution receives an additional thirty days if “the materials are voluminous, or, if after making earnest efforts, the materials are not in the prosecution’s actual possession, and the prosecutor is not reasonably able to obtain the materials.”

In certain cases the defense may even file a motion requesting access “to the crime scene or other premises related to the case” for the purpose of examining it for evidence. The court will consider both the privacy interest and the perceived hardship to the individual or entity who will be allowing access. Should the court order access be granted, the person who owns the property may request law enforcement’s presence when they grant access.

Contrary to the concerns of certain alarmists there are procedures in place to protect witnesses when their safety is in question. The court may issue a protective order when the prosecution or defense is able to make a case that certain information must be withheld for the protection of a witness.

The Defense’s Discovery Obligations

The new law ensures the prosecutor won’t have any surprises either. The defense must provide what’s called “reciprocal” discovery 30 days after the prosecution complies with the discovery laws.

In short, the defense, too, must turn over all evidence they plan to present at trial. This might impact what the prosecutor is willing to offer in terms of plea bargains, dropped charges, or other concessions.

How Automatic Discovery Impacts Plea Bargaining

If the prosecution extends a plea bargain and a Grand Jury has not yet indicted you then they must turn over all evidence three days prior to the expiration of the offer. If they extend an offer at other stages and have not yet turned over discoverable material then they must do it 7 days prior to the expiration of the offer.

These are calendar days, and not business days.

This means you’ll have a good opportunity to work with your lawyer and to consider whether plea bargaining is a good idea in your case. If the evidence against you is fairly strong then it might make sense to focus on reducing your charges. If it’s reasonably weak then it might make more sense to pursue case dismissal, or to take the matter all the way to trial.

How Automatic Discovery Impacts Cases Going to Trial

It is imperative that the attorney who represents you has the time to focus on the discovery provided, understand it, and be able to review it with you.  A thorough review of the evidence may enable the attorney to poke holes in the prosecution’s case and therefore have a better chance of defending you at trial if it goes in that direction.

Are you in trouble? Don’t wait. Contact The Law Offices of Julie Rendelman and get the help you need today.

See also:

What Happens When You Confess to a Crime You Didn’t Commit? 

How to Strengthen Your NYC Criminal Case 

What Are the Steps of a Criminal Trial?