April 17, 2019 – There’s no time like the present.
A coalition of state and local elected officials are calling on Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance to hasten the implementation of long sought criminal justice reforms set to go into effect next year.
The pols sent a letter to Vance this week, imploring him to implement “open discovery,” ensuring prosecutors hand over evidence against a defendant well in advance of a trial.
“I see no reason why he can’t,” Assemblyman Dan Quart told the Daily News. “It should bot take another eight months for basic discovery disclosure, witness statements, grand jury minutes when applicable or other documents. There’s no reason why Cy Vance can’t expidite this and do this in the next several weeks.”
Legislators repealed the existing discovery law, also known as the “Blindfold Law,” preventing people accused of crimes from knowing the evidence against them until it is too late to prepare for trial, as part of the state budget passed on April 1.
The new discovery statue, requiring early and full disclosure, with safeguards to protect vulnerable witnesses, along with an overhaul of the cash bail system and reforms meant to shorten the length of time between arrests and trials. go into effect Jan.1, 2020.
“The discovery reform is the most comprehensive and most significant of the reforms passed,” Quart said. “It will stop the practice of ‘trial-by-ambush’ by district attorneys, specifically by Cy Vance.”
Some prosecutors, including Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and Bronx DA, have already taken steps to conform to the changes.
The letter to Vance is signed by Quart, Sen. Liz Krueger, Assembly members Harvey Epstein, Robert Rodriguez, Yuh-Line Niou, Deborah Glick, and Danny O’Donnell, and Council members Margaret Chin, Keith Powers and Carlina Rivera.
The lawmakers, making reference to a 2017 report that quoted Vance talking about “serious lawyers understand they’re dealing with serious lawyers on the other side,” call on the prosecutor to take steps to work with defense attorneys and provide evidence in a timely manner.
“As elected officials in Manhattan, we are deeply troubled by the sentiment expressed: that discovery is meted out differently based on an attorney’s personal relationship with your office,” they write. “Thankfully, the Governor and State Legislature have repudiated this thinking and passed legislation instituting early, automatic open discovery.”
They go on to note that “hundreds, if not thousands, of defendants, who won’t benefit from this change in law” will be prosecuted before the new laws officially kick in at the start of 2020.
“In particular, those defendants represented by lawyers deemed unserious by your office will be unable to fight their cases as vigorously as they will be able to in just a few short months,” they added.
The DA’s office said they will review the letter.