May 31, 2018: State Bar Association Calls on the Governor and the Legislature to Reform State's Law on Criminal Discovery

New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) President Sharon Stern Gerstman today called on the Governor and state Legislative Leaders to act before the end of the legislative session on reform of New York’s discovery law in criminal justice matters.

“We urge that you recognize the critical need for significantly enhancing discovery in criminal justice matters by passing the State Bar Association’s bill, which would provide defendants with information that is essential to their understanding and evaluating the charges against them while protecting witnesses in those cases where it is necessary,” Gerstman wrote in a letter to the leaders. 

Litigants in civil lawsuits in New York State have the opportunity via ‘discovery and inspection’ or ’disclosure’ to learn about facts and evidence that are the basis for the other side’s case. However, New York’s criminal discovery statute often denies similar access to comparable information. As a result, lack of discovery can prevent innocent defendants from mounting a proper defense, and can delay the acceptance of a plea by defendants who are guilty.

New York’s criminal discovery laws are more restrictive than most states, including all of the other states in which the nine other largest cities in the U.S. are located.    

“The State Bar Association is mindful of and shares concern over the safety of witnesses.  But it is not reasonable for opponents of much-needed reform to argue that safety concerns should prevent the disclosure of any witness information,” Gerstman said.  “In that regard, we should underscore that safety concerns cannot impede defendants’ constitutional right to cross-examine these witnesses in open court, during trial.”  

NYSBA has submitted a legislative proposal, A.7292 (Lentol)/S.6848 (Avella), which allows effective provisions to protect witnesses while affording defendants the information to which they are rightly entitled.  

“Now is the time for reform of New York’s laws on this critically important issue,” Gerstman said.

View the letter to the Governor and Legislative Leaders here.

About the New York State Bar Association
The New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Since 1876, the Association has helped shape the development of law, educated and informed the legal profession and the public, and championed the rights of New Yorkers through advocacy and guidance in our communities.

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Contact: Dan Weiller 
Managing Director, Marketing and Communications
dweiller@nysba.org
518-487-5500