NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There may end up being a startling and some say worrisome consequence of New York’s controversial criminal justice reform laws.
CBS2’s Marcia Kramer has learned that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is considering dropping some cases over an inability to comply with new evidence rules.
Overwhelmed by paperwork and what he calls the “unsustainable hours” required to comply with the new so-called “discovery” rules enacted by state lawmakers as part of the new laws, Vance is considering the drastic step of simply letting some bad guys off the hook, not indicting them, Kramer reported.
“We are evaluating whether to defer or even decline prosecution in certain classes of cases,” Vance said in a Jan. 24 email to the approximately 500 assistant district attorneys who work for him.
CBS2 urban affairs expert Mark Peters said Vance is being driven to consider the extreme solution by new rules that require prosecutors to turn over evidence to defense attorneys within 15 days of an arrest.
“That’s a real public safety concern,” Peters said. “Whenever you’ve got a situation where prosecutors feel like they need to start declining cases — not because they don’t have enough evidence, not because they’re not convinced of guilt, but simply because the burdens of discovery make it impossible to get the work done — that’s going to impact public safety.”
Prosecutors told CBS2 it is not simply the 15-day rule, but the new specificity of what has to be turned over — 21 separate categories of anything deemed favorable to the defense, including electronic recordings, 911 calls, and witness statements.
“Every time that you use DNA evidence you’ve now got to turn over the qualifications of every single lab technician who touches that DNA, even though most of them are never going to testify at trial,” Peters said.
The fallout of the long hours and late-night work has included an exodus of experienced prosecutors. The Brooklyn DA’s Office, for example, has lost 25 people since the law when into effect on Jan. 1, Kramer reported.
Vance offered $60 per diem payments to prosecutors who work past 9 p.m. or any weekend or holiday to get the paperwork done.
A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he’s willing to consider giving the DAs and police departments more money to help hire more people to help them comply with the law. But just when that would happen remains to be seen.