On Jan. 1, an array of criminal justice laws became effective in New York State, after several bills were passed in the Legislature last year. One of the laws — the gathering of evidence for trial — is having a direct impact on the justice system in towns and villages across the state.
“In order to comply with the new mandates and be ready for a calendar of nearly 300 cases each Wednesday, a tremendous amount of resources has been dedicated towards the preparation of prosecution files,” said Islip Town attorney John DiCioccio of the new law.
According to the text of the law, prosecutors are required to provide the defense with discoverable information and materials within 15 days of arraignment. The defense will have the opportunity to review the materials before entering a plea. The state argues that these changes help to prevent prosecutors from withholding evidence until a trial begins.
For small operations like villages and towns, there is a burden placed on the staff working to process tickets and develop cases, officials said. In Islip, DiCioccio said that although the responsibilities of staff members has not changed, the departments will now have to produce evidence within a shorter time frame.
“Local municipal ordinances protect the quality of life in our neighborhoods and ensure the health, safety and well-being of our constituents,” DiCioccio said. “In enforcing the town code, the town’s priority has and will continue to be compliance. This will not change, but the associated workload will.”
He said no additional staff has been hired at this time.
The cases seen at the town level include quality-of-life issues like open alcohol or public urination and also building or housing violations. The law also makes the discovery process automatic. DiCioccio said that the workload necessary to complete everyday tasks relevant to a town code violation significantly increases.
“Among other requirements, the new legislation requires that appearance tickets be filed with the court within 24 hours of service; appearance dates be set out no further than 20 days from the issuance of the ticket; and discoverable materials be automatically turned over to defendants at arraignment. Prior to this new reform, the average time between the issuance of a ticket and the first court appearance was roughly [six] weeks – now it will be approximately 15 days. This shortened time frame, coupled with the automatic discovery, will place a tremendous burden on the town,” he said.
The new laws come at the same time as the fallout from New York’s new cash bail laws, which allow people arrested to be released without having to pay bail — a move pushed for by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Democrats. Cuomo said this week that changes would need to be made in the laws, namely to cash bail. Proponents of the law argue that the law stops the discrimination of people who can’t afford bail and are forced to stay detained even if they’re eventually proved innocent. Opposition argues that it is dangerous to allow people accused of crimes back on the street.