NY Daily News: Advocates Rally Against N.Y. Law That Keeps Evidence From Defense Lawyers Until Day of Trial
MONDAY, AUGUST 28, 2017

The Legal Aid Society joined other defender organizations and community groups out front of Manhattan Criminal Court last week urging support for efforts to reform New York’s antiquated criminal discovery statute.




NY Daily News
Advocates rally against N.Y. law that keeps evidence from defense lawyers until day of trial
By Molly Crane-Newman
August 22, 2017

Allowing prosecutors to keep evidence from defense lawyers until right before trial hurts a defendant's chance for justice, advocates said Tuesday at a rally outside Manhattan Criminal Court.

New York is one of four states — with Louisiana, South Carolina and Wyoming — whose "Blindfold Law" does not require witness statements or police reports to be turned over to the defense until the day a trial begins.

That makes it virtually impossible for defense attorneys to thoroughly prepare, advocates say.

"If prosecutors are concerned about mass incarceration, preventing wrongful convictions, and addressing our congested court system, they simply should stop holding back giving us the evidence until the day of a hearing or trial," said Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the criminal practice at the Legal Aid Society.

Luongo was among 40 people calling on Manhattan DA Cy Vance and other district attorneys to end the current process and embrace reforms.

Brooklyn has used open file discovery for 30 years — it's also used in a few upsatte counties as well as in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and 35 other states.

The New York State Bar Association has proposed legislation that would repeal the Blindfold Law.

The bill would require prosecutors to turn over electronic police reports, records of property recovered from defendants, witness statements, and the defendant's own sworn statement within 15 days of arraignment on an indictment.

After 90 days, trial exhibits, expert witness information, grand jury transcripts, police reports and witness statements to police during the first two weeks would be handed over to the defense.

"We cannot have a fully transparent and accountable criminal justice system when basic information about a case is withheld from one side," Public Advocate Letitia James said in a statement that was read at the rally.

"Our current policies pressure defendants into accepting a guilty plea deal without knowing all of the information."

Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D-Brooklyn) and Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens) introduced a bill in April to “modernize” the criminal procedure law and “make (it) more fair.” It never made it out of committee.

Avella announced this month that he was introducing the Senate version of the bill. But since the Legislature isn’t expected to return to Albany until January, the bill probably won’t move until next year.

Without complete access to the evidence that prosecutors possess, defense attorneys cannot properly assess the strength of the state's case. As a result, they often negotiate a plea deal, the protestors claimed.

"As New Yorkers, we must follow the national trend toward more open discovery laws," Council Member Andy King said at the rally.

"Our young black and brown men often sit in jail knowing we have not provided the tools to shine light on their innocence. And we can no longer stand by allowing this injustice.

"We are a land of laws, values, love, hatred, bigotry, prejudice — and don't think the court system is any different," King added.

The situation is different in civil cases, Luongo noted.

"You get early and full discovery, you get to cross-examine your witnesses in depositions before trial, before you even go to trial, and you can assess the worth and value of a monetary case," Luongo told the Daily News.

"If money and property were at issue, you get the information. If liberty were at issue, you're behind the 8-ball and you're blindfolded."



This article originally appeared on NY Daily News.