ALBANY — A reported state budget overhaul of discovery reform appears to have fallen apart after New York City district attorneys said it would do little to stop a deluge of dropped cases.
“The language on the table will not have a meaningful public safety impact,” reads a joint statement released Thursday afternoon by Alvin Bragg of Manhattan, Darcel Clark of the Bronx, Eric Gonzalez of Brooklyn, Melinda Katz of Queens, and Michael McMahon of Staten Island.
A purported agreement struck by Gov. Kathy Hochul and the legislative supermajorities will give criminal defendants 35 days to challenge, according to a source familiar with talks.
That was one of three discovery ideas reportedly floated by Hochul weeks ago at the behest of city prosecutors, who are now arguing that a single change is not worth the effort without a broader overhaul of reforms first enacted in 2020.
“New York City DAs no longer asking for discovery law changes as part of the budget process. Given this change of heart, what possible reason is there for lawmakers to support these changes?” Eli Northrup of Bronx Defenders tweeted Thursday afternoon.
A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) told The Post hours later that the matter had fallen out of state budget negotiations.
Prosecutors have blamed discovery reforms enacted in 2020 for an increase in dismissed cases across the city, with 69% of overall cases getting dismissed citywide in late 2021 compared to 44% in 2019, according to a Manhattan Institute report released in January.
The increase in dismissals was even more dramatic with misdemeanor cases, which increased to 82% by Oct. 2021 compared to before reforms took effect, the study said.
“Thousands of cases have been needlessly dismissed across the five boroughs as a direct result of the changes to the discovery law, which has harmed public safety and prevented victims from achieving accountability in the courtroom,” the prosecutors said Thursday as they continue pushing for more funding to meet discovery requirements.
The letter adds that the prosecutors will push for changes in the remaining weeks of the legislative session scheduled to end on June 3.
In addition to the 35-day timeline to challenge prosecutors’ compliance with discovery law, prosecutors have also pushed for judges to get more discretion to decide whether any violations are egregious enough to warrant dropping a case.
DAs also want a change to allow trials to proceed as long as prosecutors turn over all “relevant” materials rather than all those “related” to a case as currently required by law.
“The law as written has resulted in thousands of cases being dismissed on technicalities, creating a revolving door that encourages repeat offenses. from shoplifting, to assault, to driving under the influence,” Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the business group Partnership for New York City, said.
“The DAs are asking that the law clarify that only failure to give the defense evidence in their possession that is relevant or prejudicial to a case be the basis for dismissal.”
Albany Democrats have until early next week to pass a final spending plan, after blowing by an April 1 deadline, unless they pass another spending resolution to keep state government funded as talks continue.
Any successful effort in the budget process to change the much-criticized discovery reforms could still win the governor some political points along with her successful push to nix an existing law requiring judges impose the “least restrictive” conditions to ensure they show up in court
“Hochul can now say she speeded up prosecutions and cut time in jail awaiting trial. Win win,” political consultant Hank Sheinkopf told The Post.
But critics of the deal are now wondering why Albany Democrats will impose the 35-day timeline now that district attorneys say they no longer want a budget deal that appears on the brink of getting approved until they released their letter.
And any political credit for Hochul for pushing for that deal appears to be dissolving as well as the budget impasse continued Thursday.
“Imagine negotiating a public safety change that is so meaningless you make Alvin Bragg look pro public safety,” state Senate Republican Minority Leader Robert Ortt (R-Lockport) tweeted.
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