New York State Bar Association President Seymour W. James, Jr. has created a Task Force on Criminal Discovery Reform to study issues relating to the exchange of critical information by prosecutors and defense attorneys prior to trial.
Discovery is a process that allows prosecutors and defendants to learn about the facts or evidence that are the basis for the other side's case. Early discovery allows each side to better prepare for trial, reducing the possibility that surprise evidence is introduced after the trial is under way.
Within New York state-and even New York City, discovery practices vary widely. In most counties, defendants routinely receive limited information from district attorneys about their cases before trial. Too often, important information comes too late for defense attorneys to investigate, to fairly weigh plea offers or to mount a legitimate defense.
In contrast, prosecutors in a few counties, including Kings County, share all or most of the information in their case files with the defense before a trial begins, a practice known as "open-file" discovery.
"New York's discovery statute sets significant limitations on the material available to the opposition in criminal cases. In fact, New York's statute is one of the most restrictive in the country," said James (The Legal Aid Society in New York City). "We are hopeful that the task force will identify and help bring about needed reforms."
In criminal trials, current discovery practices make it difficult for a defendant's attorney to weigh the case against his or her client. Reforms are needed to help an attorney better assess a case and provide advice to the defendant.
The Task Force on Criminal Discovery Reform will review criminal discovery laws and standards adopted by other states. It also will examine "open-file" discovery and reciprocal discovery by the defense.
The task force is co-chaired by Court of Claims Judge Mark R. Dwyer (New York State Supreme Court, Kings County) and Peter Harvey of New York City (Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler). It is expected to issue a report and make recommendations for consideration by State Bar's House of Delegates.
The New York State Bar Association, with 77,000 members, is the largest voluntary state bar association in the country. It was founded in 1876.
Contact: Mark Mahoney
Associate Director, Media Services and Public Affairs