This Newsday opinion piece addresses one part of proposed criminal justice reform in New York – discovery in criminal cases. New York’s discovery rules are indeed behind most of the country and the deck is often stacked against a defendant.
Discovery is the process by which the parties obtain evidence. Of course, one must know the evidence against them to successfully defend against it. While district attorneys in several New York counties provide informal “open discovery,” this is not always the case. Thus, as noted in the article, “many defendants facing criminal charges and their attorneys never see the evidence purportedly gathered — whether good, bad, or questionable.”
This is a problem that must be addressed. Imagine you are sitting in jail on a criminal charge and can’t afford the bail. Let’s say you think you have a defense, but are unsure how it will play out at trial because you have not seen the government’s evidence. You’re offered a plea deal that would see you released. How do you know your chances at trial if you don’t know the evidence? How do you make an informed decision? Many people faced with this problem simply opt for the easy solution-take the plea offer, plead guilty, and get out of jail. Later, when dealing with a collateral consequence of this conviction, regret sets in.
This happens too often in New York and must be fixed. Reforming our discovery rules by mandating the disclosure of all evidence at the very beginning of a criminal case would be a good start.