Criminal law

A new study shows how New York law is putting bad guys back on the streets



January 19, 2023 | 05:00

a The controversial new law of evidence It has led to significant increases in the number of cases prosecutors are forced to drop across the Big Apple – Fueling crime By putting suspected villains back on the streets without having to face justice, a new study obtained by The Post reveals.

The citywide case dismissal rate rose from 44% in 2019 — the year state lawmakers adopted new “discovery” rules — to 69% by mid-October 2021, the Manhattan Institute found in the report, scheduled to be released Thursday.

For misdemeanor cases, the increase was even more dramatic, jumping from 49% to 82% over the same period, according to official data cited by the conservative think tank.

“Therefore, the law has been associated with a devastating rise in crime and a decline in arrests,” wrote author and former NYPD analyst Hannah Myers.

“In New York City, adult felony arrests decreased by 14% between 2019 and 2021, while shootings in New York City rose by 102% and homicides rose by more than 51%.”

The study blamed this troubling situation on the “clerical burden” imposed on prosecutors who must “compile and redact a limitless number of documents and videos” for defense attorneys as part of the legal process called “discovery.”

When combined with the state’s “speedy trial” laws, assistant prosecutors “run out of time to try cases or file motions to extend the custody of defendants,” Myers said.

The study also found that while prosecutors were busy “running papers” to meet the 20-day discovery deadlines for defendants in jail, a “surprising” number of defense attorneys did not bother to review the evidence they were entitled to.

“According to sources with direct knowledge of this data, during at least the first year after implementation, defense attorneys in many jurisdictions failed to download discovery packages within their 30-day windows in more than half of the cases,” Myers wrote.

Myers said the Discovery Act — part of a package that also included bail reform — allows corrupt defense attorneys to “sabotage” prosecutors by taking advantage of the “speedy trial window.”

Myers pointed to a leaked internal guide prepared by the Legal Aid Society that reportedly noted how important the new rules were “particularly in misdemeanor cases.”

“An unscrupulous defense attorney can delay filing motions to suppress evidence until the last possible moment, all while the window for the ADA to dismiss the case remains closed,” Myers wrote.

“Defense attorneys can easily take advantage of this new leverage, contributing to dramatically increased dismissal rates, especially for minor offenses.”

At the same time, the Discovery Act also “paralyzed” the justice system resulting in “collective attrition” in the DA’s offices Statewide, where many of the 30 respondents to the October survey said 40% of the PAs in their offices have He resigned since the Discovery Act came into forceaccording to the study.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg blames the Discovery Act for allowing criminals to return to the streets.
Stephen Jeremiah

In addition, what was once a “steady stream of qualified applicants” has been whittled down to “months without any applicants at all”.

“Most attorneys are drawn to the low-paying, stressful role of a prosecutor intrinsically because of their passion for making a difference for victims of crime,” Myers writes. “But high rates of case rejections and the inability of paralegals to devote sufficient time to case development as they scramble to collect discovery documents mean that the central fulfillment of the role itself – representing people and pursuing justice – has been removed tremendously.”

Beleaguered Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, whose policies are soft on crime It led to a wave of resignations After taking office last year, he blamed the Discovery Act for the “record drain” of his office.

In March, he told the city council that “our disabled aides have exhausted themselves and are looking for less demanding jobs for more money.”

On Monday, Prague too He told WNYC Radio that in 2021, before he took office, 1,800 or more misdemeanor cases that had expired had been dismissed because the discovery was not delivered on time.

In a statement on Wednesday, Bragg said there are “technical changes we can make to discovery legislation” that will protect public safety “while also preserving the intent of the law.”

“We look forward to sharing more about our proposal in the coming days and will continue to collaborate with law enforcement partners, elected officials, and the defense on this important issue,” he added.

Queens DA Melinda Katz said that while fixing the discovery was “overdue,” some aspects were “imposing burdens on the criminal justice system unprecedented anywhere else in the country.”

District Attorney Melinda Katz believes the discovery law needs to be revised in order to benefit the criminal justice system.
Brigitte Stelzer

“Tens of thousands of cases were unnecessarily dismissed across the city last year because of reform requirements that prosecutors share mounds of unimportant information. There is an urgent need to make adjustments to reform,” she added.

Staten Island Attorney General Michael McMahon also said that “onerous discovery rules have had a significant and negative impact on my office’s ability to secure justice for crime victims, hold lawbreakers to account, and prevent crime by directing people in need to meaningful programming.”

“In the past three to four years, we’ve lost dozens of employees to the private sector and, frustratingly, to other roles in government because of the unreasonable and unnecessary demands that Albany has made on them,” he said.

Staten Island DA Michael McMahon claims that discovery rules have a negative impact on providing justice to crime victims.
Kevin C. Downs for the New York Post

“The system that Albany is currently creating has failed miserably, and we are seeing its effects on our streets and in our courtrooms every single day.”

The incoming president of the New York State Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Young Mi Lee of Brooklyn Defense Services, did not contest the report’s finding that discovery evidence was not reviewed in 60% of cases.

“Maybe it was an unexpected technological challenge,” she said.

He also told me that adapting to the new law “requires an amendment. We are still in the process of resolving the kinks at this stage.

“But I have to say that the discovery fix has been amazing and very useful,” she added.

Legal Aid did not question the authenticity of the internal document Myers said it had obtained, but criticized its study as “based on a lie.”

“In fact, our team downloads discovery and publishes evidence usually within 24 to 48 hours. The author of the report is either a liar or is too naive and not interested in fact-checking to be taken seriously,” a company spokesperson said.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Rosner

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