On Jan. 1, an array of criminal justice laws became effective in New York State, after several bills were passed in the legislature last year. One of the laws — the gathering of evidence for trial — is having a direct impact on the justice system in towns and villages across the state.
“It definitely is going to have a very large impact on any municipality processing tickets in their justice court,” said Patchogue Village attorney Brian Egan of the new law.
According to the text of the law, prosecutors are required to provide the defense with discoverable information and materials within 15 days of arraignment. The defense will have the opportunity to review the materials before entering a plea. The state argues that these changes help to prevent prosecutors from withholding evidence until a trial begins.
So for small operations like villages and towns, there is a burden placed on the staff working to process tickets and develop cases, officials said. In Patchogue, Egan said, there were several adjustments in the responsibilities of staff members, who will now have to produce evidence within a shorter time frame. It also causes priorities to be shifted, so timelines for other projects have to be extended, he added. No additional staff has been hired at this time.
Village prosecutor Paul Feuer echoed Egan’s comments, saying that changes were made to department operations in order to comply with the law. The cases seen at the village level include quality of life issues like open alcohol or public urination and also building or housing violations. Feuer said there wasn’t a real enforceable deadline before the new law. The law also makes the discovery process automatic; before the law, Feuer said, the defense would need to make a request to see such evidence before a trial.
“It creates a tremendous amount of up-front work that wasn’t necessary before,” he said.
Bellport Village is a much smaller operation in comparison to Patchogue. Village Attorney Dave Moran told the Advance that the new law would have a “minimal effect” on the village but still require shifting of staff and deadlines. It might also revamp how operations run in that department. Moran added that the law targets all areas of the law, despite municipal codes not having real issues in this area before.
“I’m not sure with these new rules they contemplated local levels of government,” he said. The new laws come at the same time as the fallout from New York’s new cash bail laws, which allow people arrested to be released without having to pay bail — a move pushed for by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Democrats. Cuomo said this week that changes would need to be made in the laws, namely to cash bail. Proponents of the law argue that the law stops the discrimination of poor people who can’t afford bail and are forced to stay detained even if they’re eventually proved innocent. Opposition argues that it is dangerous to allow people accused of crimes back on the street.