Beginning January 1st, 2020, the discovery process in criminal cases will undergo massive change, in a manner that is very favorable to those charged with crimes in State court. (Discovery is the process that compels the prosecutor to disclose evidence against the defendant) One of the new rules that really jumps out at me, will end a prosecutorial practice that has been very frustrating to me over the years.
I represent many people charged with drug possession. A typical case would be a client charged with felony cocaine possession, (a very popular drug!). In NY, possession of cocaine in excess of half a gram is a felony. A typical case would involve a search of a person or vehicle and the discovery of a little baggy of cocaine. Said baggy gets tossed on a scale back at the police station, (god only knows the condition of the scale or when it was last calibrated), and the weight comes up .6 grams, just over the line in to felony land.
Now let’s say I have an offer of a plea bargain and my client and I do not think it is fair. At that point I would prefer to get the actual weight from the forensics lab before my client makes a major decision. So I might say to the prosecutor, “hey, I’m not comfortable with this deal without getting the lab weight”. In the past the prosecutor might say, “well if you make that demand then we will indict your client or take the deal off the table”. This is vindictive. No defendant should be forced in to a deal, only because they want to see the evidence against them.
The new discovery reforms prohibit the above nasty practice. I’m sure some prosecutors will remain the same, but it will be at their peril. Because if a Judge gets wind that a prosecutor is violating the rule, they can impose sanctions, including suppression of the evidence in question, pursuant to the new law.
This is only one of many of significant reforms that will further level the playing ground between criminal defendants and prosecutors. The new reforms really are a game changer for the practice of criminal defense. I’m looking forward to taking advantage of the reforms to provide the best defense possible for my clients.