Statement on Proposed Rollbacks to Current Discovery Laws
Tuesday, April 18, 2023: The Center for Family Representation (CFR) strongly opposes any rollbacks to the current discovery laws, especially ones negotiated in the secrecy of the New York State budget process. Gutting these laws would diminish prosecutorial accountability and result in more wrongful convictions.
Under the 2019 discovery laws, those in pre-trial custody are allowed to understand the charges and evidence against them before accepting a plea deal. Additionally, their defense attorneys are given an opportunity to review the evidence for flaws that could avoid wrongful prosecutions. These laws ensure that District Attorneys do not hold essential information from clients and their attorneys, or bring up previously-undisclosed evidence on the eve of trial.
The Data Collaborative for Justice and the Center of Court Innovation noted that “[when] implemented properly, the current law has the potential to shrink case processing times, resulting in shorter jail stays for people held in pre-trial detention. By facilitating a defendant’s ability to prepare a defense, the reform may also result in fewer prison or jail sentences and more just outcomes.”
When New York State adopted its current discovery laws, it joined 46 other states that have a similar form of “open file” discovery law. Many supported the laws’ adoption, including CFR’s Senior Staff Attorney Nikki Woods, who signed on to a letter from former prosecutors expressing support for discovery laws.
Rolling back the 2019 discovery laws is an attempt by the governor and New York District Attorneys to place the burden on defense lawyers, even though any discovery is something that is obtained and controlled by prosecutors. At a time when thousands of New Yorkers languish for months or even years in dangerous and decrepit jails like Rikers, we reject attempts to weaken vital discovery laws.