New York’s Evidence Discovery Reforms ‘Crippled’ Prosecutors, Coincided With Massive Crime Spike: REPORT

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Erinn Broadus Investigative Reporter
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  • New York passed Law Article 245 in 2020, making the process of discovery significantly more difficult for prosecutors. 
  • This has led to a dramatic increase in the number of cases dropped, despite rising crime. 
  • Law 245 “has crippled the state’s criminal justice system with an untenable compliance burden,” according to a new report by the Manhattan Institute. 

New reforms in New York have dramatically diminished the ability to prosecute criminals during historic crime increases, according to a new report by the Manhattan Institute.

In 2019, New York passed Law Article 245, which significantly changed the process by which discovery in criminal cases is handled. Since the change, there has been a 25 percentage point increase in the rate of cases dismissed — from 44% in 2019 to 69% in October 2021, according the Manhattan Institute.

Law Article 245 put in place 21 additional categories of discovery, the process by which the prosecutor submits all relevant evidence against the defendant to the defense attorney, and limits the timeframe to provide it to just 35 days, the Manhattan Institute reported. Discovery documents must include “all statements, transcripts of grand jury testimony, potential witness names and contact information, audio and video recordings, photographs and drawings, reports, exculpatory and impeachment material, tangible objects seized, and search warrant information” according to the District Attorney’s Association of New York.

Before these reforms, assistant district attorneys only had to provide intended trial evidence, witness statements, and exculpatory material.

Law Article 245 “has crippled the state’s criminal justice system with an untenable compliance burden,” according to the report. The new law has dramatically reduced the ability of the prosecution to provide the necessary discovery documents in time for trial, leading many cases to simply be dismissed, according to the study.

This change in discovery has proved a significant hurdle for the prosecution, and the New York Association of Counties estimates that it will cost over $100 million to enforce.

“An unscrupulous defense attorney could delay filing motions to suppress evidence until the last possible moment, all while the window before the ADA must dismiss the case keeps closing,” wrote Hannah Meyers of the Manhattan Institute, a former NYPD analyst.

The report cites a leaked memo from the Legal Aid Society that notes how these new rules are particularly important for misdemeanor cases. In 2021, 82% of misdemeanor cases were dismissed compared to just 49% in 2019.

“Tens of thousands of cases were needlessly dismissed across the city last year because of the reform’s requirement that prosecutors share mounds of inconsequential information. Revisions to the reform are urgently needed,” Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said to the Manhattan Institute.

NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 06: Borough President Melinda Katz attends Museum of the Moving Image Award for Achievement in Media and Entertainment at Park Hyatt Hotel New York on June 6, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Museum of the Moving Image )

This vast burden has caused many in the justice system to outright quit. According to the study, Manhattan and Brooklyn lost about a fifth of their prosecutors in 2021, and district attorneys throughout the state report that 40% of their employees have quit.

“In the last three to four years, we have lost scores of staff to the private sector and, dispiritingly, to other roles in government because of the unreasonable and unnecessary demands placed on them by Albany,” Staten Island DA Michael McMahon said to the New York Post.

This comes on the heels of another law passed in the name of “reform.” In 2019, New York passed a law prohibiting judges from considering if a defendant poses a threat to public safety when determining bail. Rearrest rates increased by 3 to 4 percentage points after the reform, according to a separate analysis by the Manhattan Institute. For those on supervised release, 23% were rearrested on felony charges, according to The City.

New York has since seen an uptick in crime. (RELATED: Scarborough Tears Into Gov. Hochul, Progressives Over New York Crime Surge)

The New York Times reported that New York saw an overall 22% increase in major crime last year. Commenting on the crime increases, Mayor Eric Adams said, “We know we have more to do. That is my obligation: to ensure that safety is felt.”

The New York City Police Department and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James did not respond to a request for comment from the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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