Here on this blog we’ve been watching and discussing some of the hot issues behind criminal justice reform in New York. One such issue is the issue of discovery, which has a big impact on how your case proceeds.
On television courtroom dramas lawyers produce surprise witnesses and evidence all the time. Big, dramatic reveals are the order of the day. But in truth, prosecutors and defense lawyers are supposed to share all their evidence with one another. This is a federal standard thanks to the 1963 Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland.
While the Brady case specifically discussed exculpatory evidence the truth is the defense and prosecution should have access to all evidence held by the other side. Witness statements need proper examination and investigation. Knowing your accuser is a basic right thanks to the 6th Amendment.
But under New York’s discovery laws, prosecutors don’t strictly have to turn over any of their evidence until the moment the trial begins.
Prosecutors argue this protects victims and witnesses from intimidation and death threats and keeps New York safer overall. This is one reason why these discovery laws tend to become a problem for defense attorneys in drug cases more than they do in other sorts of cases: drugs tend to be attached to gangs who have the resources to both make and execute threats.
But most states enjoy “open discovery,” which compels prosecutors and defense attorneys to share their evidence far earlier in the process. As proponents of reform argue, neither witnesses nor victims have been any less safe in these states.
The debate rages on. The laws haven’t changed yet.
So how does all this impact your case?
First, if your defense attorney isn’t successful at getting prosecutors to turn over their evidence any earlier then you may be forced to make decisions about plea bargaining without any insight into the strength of the prosecution’s case.
Second, it means you’ll need a defense attorney who is thoroughly committed to investigating your evidence, and you’ll need to work with your attorney to provide as much exculpatory evidence as possible, because if you take your case to trial we’ll need that evidence to successfully hit prosecutorial curve balls out of the park. This means if you choose a public defender over a private lawyer you could be in trouble, as they will not have time to strengthen your case.
One thing that helps is hiring a defense lawyer who has a good relationship with prosecutors. Those who have maintained friendly, professional relationships and know how things work on the prosecutor’s side of the aisle generally have an edge in convincing them to turn over their evidence faster.
Here at Greco Neyland we can provide you with both types of help. All of our lawyers are former prosecutors, and we’re committed to giving everything we have to help our clients.
We can’t change the laws, but we can give you your best shot at freedom. Are you in trouble? Get a case evaluation now. When New York criminal law favors prosecutors, you’re going to need every edge you can get.
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