New York City

NYC DAs push for discovery rollbacks: Late-night tactics seek to gut reforms

April 14, 2023 Robert Abruzzese
District Attorney Eric Gonzalez explained that his office will continue to prosecute drivers involved in vehicular violence.Photo: Brooklyn DA’s office.
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CITYWIDEMultiple New York City district attorneys, including Eric Gonzalez from Brooklyn, are urging leaders in Albany to incorporate rollbacks to the state’s discovery reforms into the state’s budget, according to sources who spoke to the Queens Daily Eagle‘s Jacob Kaye.

One of these changes has recently gained traction in Albany and could potentially be incorporated into the state’s budget, which is already two weeks overdue and has been primarily delayed by separate negotiations over the state’s bail laws.

Several public defense firms denounced the proposals on Wednesday, urging legislators to reject the alterations to the 2019 discovery reforms, which they argue would revert New York to a time when crucial evidence was withheld from the defense, causing clients to languish on Rikers Island for years.

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The Legal Aid Society stated, “This 11th-hour ploy to gut one of the most transformative reforms Albany has codified in recent memory is a shameless attempt by prosecutors to revert back to the days when discovery practices skewed heavily in their favor.”

The three-part proposal to roll back the 2019 reforms comes from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Bronx DA Darcel Clark, and Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez. Both the Brooklyn and Bronx DAs declined to comment on the Queens Eagle story. In a statement, a spokesperson for Bragg said they are working with Albany partners to find commonsense solutions that preserve the intent of the law while ensuring appropriate accountability in all cases.

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz did not sign onto the proposals but supports the measure. Katz, who took office just as the reforms were passed into law, has often credited the reforms for contributing significantly to her office’s attrition rate.

At least one of the proposals is making headway in Albany, according to a source with knowledge of the proposal who spoke with Kaye. The change would require defense attorneys to submit a motion challenging a prosecutor’s “certificate of [discovery] compliance” within 35 days or waive their right to challenge it at any other point. A spokesperson from the Kings County DA’s Office claimed on Thursday that this information was inaccurate.

Public defenders argue that the change would enable prosecutors to turn over only a portion of the evidence, forcing defense attorneys to either file the motion, stopping the speedy trial clock, or risk waiving their rights to compel prosecutors to turn over any additional evidence before trial.Brooklyn Defender Services said in a statement, “Legislative changes to undermine the discovery laws will diminish prosecutorial accountability, result in more wrongful convictions, and cause more New Yorkers to languish in deadly jails for longer.”

Governor Hochul’s spokesperson declined to comment specifically on the governor’s support of the proposal and instead directed the Eagle to Hochul’s comments about discovery reform last Wednesday.

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