ALBANY — A group of upstate New York district attorneys raised concerns Monday over the rollout of a new law that aims to give defendants more information about their cases, arguing they will need more funds to implement the legal changes.
The prosecutors made the comments in Albany during a hearing on changes to the legal process known as discovery. The changes go into effect at the beginning of next year.
Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler told lawmakers that prosecutors are doing their best to prepare for the law, but he’s not confident they will be properly funded.
Prosecutors will be required to turn over discovery information within 15 days after an arraignment under the law, but there are exceptions. For instance, the prosecution can be given another 30 days if there’s a large amount of information or if they do not have possession of the information.
Reform supporters argued that prosecutors simply do not want to give up the power they hold over the discovery process. The district attorneys described the law as well-intentioned or acknowledged the need for changes, but said complying with the law will be a time-consuming effort.
“The reforms as drafted are not practical,” said Rensselaer County District Attorney Mary Pat Donnelly. “In attempting to level the playing field, we are playing roulette with public safety.”
Weeden Wetmore, the district attorney from Chemung County, told lawmakers he believes the release of grand jury transcripts will have a chilling effect on certain witness testimony due to intimidation concerns.
“The chilling effect of this reform certainly does not assist prosecutors in seeking justice in all cases,” he told lawmakers.
The law lists the information that prosecutors must turn over to the defense, which includes the names and contact information of witnesses. It also allows a court to deny or restrict discovery information.
Dozens of people chanted in support of the discovery law in the hallway outside the hearing room Monday morning.
Defense attorney Chuck Keller, who is running for district attorney in Onondaga County, spoke to the crowd and said there is “fear mongering” over the discovery changes.
Attorney Lee Greenstein, who appeared before lawmakers and described the changes as reasonable reform, said in an interview that prosecutors made excuses in raising concerns about the discovery changes.
In the past, he said prosecutors held all the power by dictating the terms of plea bargains and the pace of a case.
“Well now it’s different,” he said. “Now they have an obligation and the grand jury minutes (are) an excuse.”