Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Deputy Majority Leader Gianaris:

We write in opposition to any rollback of New York State’s landmark discovery reforms and condemn closed-door efforts to amend the law without full input from elected members and stakeholders across the state.  Prior to the 2019 reforms, New York’s discovery law was among the four most regressive in the country. The old law operated as a blindfold, prevented Black and Brown New Yorkers from reviewing the evidence against them, led to indefinite pretrial jailing, wrongful convictions, and countless coerced pleas. The landmark 2019 reform, known as “Kalief’s Law,” brought our state in line with the rest of the country. New York is now a model for the rest of the country. We cannot go backwards.

Under the old Blindfold Law, prosecutors were not required to obtain all information and material known to the police and other witnesses. Whatever they did gather was not required to be turned over to the defense until the eve of trial. Although trials could not go forward until the defense actually had some evidence, the law allowed prosecutors to stop the speedy trial clock from running without obtaining or disclosing any of the evidence. This meant that prosecutors could, without consequence, withhold material and avoid obtaining it for months or years, delaying an actual trial from taking place. Meanwhile, Black and Brown New Yorkers accused but not convicted of any crime put their lives on hold, often while sitting in deadly jails across the state. During this pre-trial nightmare, prosecutors would make offers to plead guilty to a lesser crime and lower sentence than a person  would face if convicted after a trial. As time wore on, and without access to all the evidence against them, many innocent or overcharged people accepted these pleas to make it all stop. 

The proposals to rollback these reforms, lobbied for by NYC DAs in the 11th hour,well past any opportunity for meaningful legislative oversight or stakeholder input, would fundamentally alter “Kalief’s Law.” These rollbacks are not “minor tweaks.” The proposed change would once again require a person accused of a crime to demand evidence or risk forfeiting their right to it. It would also enable prosecutors to strategically avoid the risk of speedy trial dismissal even when they have not provided all of the evidence to the defense. 

To the extent that prosecutors are struggling to comply with the requirements of the reforms, the solution is funding. The law was passed in 2019 without being funded. Since then, the meager funding that has been allocated for implementation of the law has not gone to the NYC DAs lobbying for this rollback. Both DAASNY and a Committee of stakeholders in NYC, which is composed of DAs, Defenders, city and state executives, and OCA representatives, agree that funding is needed to implement the law and that no changes to the law are necessary.

         Changes to the discovery rules without authentic input from both parties promise more injustice, especially at a time of deadly jails and high attrition from both defense and prosecutor offices. We urge you to reject any proposal to rollback “Kalief’s Law” and instead focus on fulfilling the promise of funding to both prosecutors and defenders for technology and staffing upgrades. As well as continue to employ your oversight to pursue evidence-based solutions in collaboration with all stakeholders.


The New York City Council Progressive Caucus


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