A new law that takes effect in New York in January will give people accused of crimes more tools to mount a defense in court. But the state’s District Attorneys say changes to what’s known as the discovery laws will be costly and hard to implement.
Under current law defendants don’t have right to see a prosecutor’s evidence against them, including police reports, recordings or results of DNA tests that could help a defendant’s case until the trail begins. In some cases that takes months or even years to happen.
Starting in 2020, under a new law passed by the Democratic led state legislature and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, prosecutors must make that evidence available to defendants and their lawyers within 15 to 30 days.
Supporters of the change, including criminal justice advocacy groups, say some defendants have pleaded guilty to lesser crimes as part of plea bargain deal, without knowing whether the prosecutor had a solid body of evidence against them or not.
But district attorneys in New York say it’s going to be costly to hire staff and replace antiquated computer systems to comply with the law, and they are asking for more money.
The head of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler, spoke at press conferee at the Capitol on the criminal justice law changes.
“In my county, we have almost 40 different law enforcement agencies, they all have different computer systems,” Hoovler said. “There’s no central link to the district attorney’s office.”
Hoovler says some courts meet just once a month, and one third of the judges are not attorneys.
“And now you are asking them to participate in a very complex process?” Hoovler asked.
The DAs say it could cost $100 million to pay for the extra staff and resources, and they are asking for the state to provide the money.
Hoovler says without that, it’s an unfunded mandate that county property owners will pay through additional property taxes in a state that already has among the highest rates in the nation. But he says DAs will obey the law.
“Every DA in the state is going to try,” Hoovler said. “What you’ll see is that there are going to be difficulties.”
Cuomo, speaking to reporters on Nov. 6, said he already included $200 million in additional aid to counties outside New York City in the current budget that can be used to comply with the new law.
“They’ve gotten a lot more funding, everybody always says they want more funding,” Cuomo said. “I get that.”
Cuomo says there is a Medicaid shortfall. It could be as high as $2.9 billion next year.
When asked directly if he would give the DAs the additional $100 million the governor answered, “No, I don’t think they need more funding.”
The Attorney General, Tish James, has also asked for more funding to help local prosecutors carry out the discovery law and other criminal justice changes, including bail reform. Her office did not return a request for comment.
The executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, Stephen Acquario, says that county budgets will be “impacted,” but the group is not able to quantify that right now.
“It may take several years to understand the full annualized impact of these reforms,” said Acquario. He said that county jails may also be impacted by the changes.