Changes to New York’s controversial bail law have dominated budget talks. But behind the scenes, more changes could be made to the state’s criminal justice system as part of a final spending plan that is now more than two weeks behind schedule.
Lawmakers are considering with Gov. Kathy Hochul whether to make more changes to the state’s discovery law that was first approved four years ago as a way to speed up access to evidence for criminal defendants.
At the same time, advocates are making a final attempt this month to include a law that would replace the police response with crisis teams when a person is in a mental health crisis.
Both actions are part of the ongoing and broader debate about criminal justice in New York State over the past several years, as officials and advocates negotiate for justice in the system as well as for public safety.
Former Rochester Deputy Police Chief Wayne Harris is among those calling for the measure for crisis teams that could, in part, help improve police-community relations and better define the role of law enforcement.
“The statistics show that it is not necessary for a uniformed police officer to always go to an incident involving someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis,” he said.
Now with the group’s Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Harris is backing proposals that are named in honor of Daniel Prude, who died in 2020 after being restrained by police officers. An autopsy report found that Prude had angel drug dust in his system at the time. The coroner ruled his death a homicide by asphyxiation. The officers involved in the incident did not face charges after the investigation.
“There is an effort underway to change the dynamic of police-community relations so that people are not harmed, officers are not harmed, and the level of trauma is reduced on both sides,” Harris said.
Meanwhile, there have been discussions to make changes to the state’s discovery law that would require defendants to have faster access to evidence in criminal cases. Prosecutors such as Albany District Attorney David Soares have called the requirements too onerous and too expensive.
“The detection reforms that have been passed are the only ones that have gotten more prosecutors and police out the door,” he said in an interview earlier this year.
But Laurette Mulry, the attorney in charge of the Suffolk County Legal Aid Society, urged lawmakers not to roll back changes to the law four years ago that are intended to speed up access to a defendant’s case to adjudication.
“The historic discovery reform laws that were passed in 2019 really did a lot to level the playing field in the criminal justice sector,” said Mullery.
One possible change could ease timelines for handing over evidence. Instead, Mulry says, lawmakers should consider more funding for DA offices as Hochul proposed this year in her budget plan.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure that the laws of discovery are preserved because the timing right now allows us to be able to see evidence – crucial evidence – very early in a case,” Mullery said.