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NY Prosecutors Expect Wins On Bail, Evidence Reforms

In 2019, progressive Democrats who had taken control of New York’s legislature passed landmark changes to criminal justice laws. With crime at historic lows, lawmakers overhauled the state’s bail law and compelled prosecutors to hand over reams of case material to defense lawyers in a timely manner. Four years later, lawmakers are nearing a deal on changes that again will transform the way that criminal cases play out in New York, reversing some of the changes progressives had won. One change would allow judges more freedom in detaining defendants on bail. The other would place a timeline on defense lawyers to request outstanding case material from prosecutors. Defense lawyers — including the defenders who handle the vast majority of New York’s criminal cases — fear that the change to so-called discovery requirements may leave them without the comprehensive access to case material that they fought for in 2019, the New York Times reports. Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams has long sought to change the bail law, and that shift, though contentious, was expected by progressive lawmakers and public defenders.


The change to the law requiring prosecutors to hand over case material was a surprise. It was spearheaded by a trio of prosecutors who say they are in favor of criminal justice reform: the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg; the Bronx district attorney, Darcel Clark; and the Brooklyn district attorney, Eric Gonzalez. The idea was supported by business leaders including the Partnership for New York City. Leaders in Albany have signaled that it is likely to be included in a final budget deal. The change would require defenders, who were not previously held to a strict time limit in flagging that prosecutors had not turned over discovery, to file a motion making that argument within 35 days. Even though the change seems simple, defenders argue that prosecutors will revert to their prior practices of holding back material because there may be fewer repercussions if they fail to turn over all case material in a timely manner. Prosecutors argue that the shift would stop defenders from making last-ditch challenges to their lists of evidence, hoping for case dismissals that hinge on minor pieces of missing documentation. The law still requires prosecutors to hand over all material related to a case. A Bragg spokesman said while his office supported the intent of the 2019 changes, “the current version of the law has resulted in thousands of cases being needlessly dismissed. We can address this issue through common sense amendments that protect the rights of defendants.”

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