Brooklyn expected to increase usage of SCIs to speed up criminal courts
In her “State of the Judiciary” speech last Tuesday, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore praised Brooklyn and Administrative Judge Matthew D’Emic for a 16 percent drop in felony cases, but explained that she would like to see a practice more commonly in use in upstate New York implemented in Kings County.
The use of superior court informations, or SCIs, is a process where defendants waive their right to prosecution by indictment, as is their right allowed by the state constitution.
In New York City, the average time to dispose of a criminal case by indictment is 277 days, however, in upstate New York it takes an average of 120 days to dispose of a case by SCI, according to Chief Judge DiFiore.
“With SCIs, prosecutors engage in early case assessment and, critically, provide defendants with early, expanded discovery, giving them the opportunity to make intelligent, informed decisions about whether to plead guilty or put the people to their proof at trial,” DiFiore said.
An official from the Kings County Criminal Court, Criminal Term, confirmed that the court will allocate one judge to handle additional SCIs, and said that the court was open to anything that could speed up cases as long as the defense bar association and prosecutors could agree on the process.
Michael Cibella, the president of the Kings County Criminal Bar Association (KCCBA), is open to the idea of expanding the process and has been involved with meetings on the topic. However, he expressed a need for the courts to designate resources for a specific court part to ensure that it can happen.
“It’s been going on in Brooklyn. The problem we have are the resources,” Cibella said. “The time an SCI takes is significantly more than pleading guilty on a criminal court complaint, and we need a judge hearing those pleas on a daily basis.”
The other major issue is discovery. Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of the Brooklyn Defender Services, explained that because pleas in these instances come so early in the case that defense attorneys might not have enough time to prepare for a plea without cooperation from the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office and advocated for changes via the legislature.
“These plea offers must be analyzed and accepted without the opportunity to review any of the police reports, review the evidence or conduct a full investigation,” Schreibersdorf said. “This method of resolution is not suitable for the majority of plea bargaining although it a very useful tool in some cases.
“The most reliable way to expedite cases while maintaining fairness is for the state legislature to reform the laws that dictate the transfer of information from the police and prosecutors to the defense, known as the ‘discovery laws,’” Schreibersdorf continued. “In cases where we have been provided with the information in a timely way, it is common for a resolution of the case to come expeditiously.”
During DiFiore’s speech, she thanked District Attorney Eric Gonzalez for his “support and thoughtful commitment” to identify cases where SCIs and early discovery are appropriate.
When asked what role the DA will ultimately play in the expansion of SCIs, a spokesperson responded, “We are in active discussions with the Office of Court Administration regarding the creation of an SCI part in Brooklyn that will allow earlier collaboration with the defense bar and faster resolutions of cases before indictments are filed.”
The Brooklyn Supreme Court, Criminal Term, is expected to begin processing SCIs more often on Tuesday, Feb. 13, with a judge dedicated to a special part to processes SCIs.
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