Taking off the ‘Blindfold Law’ in 2020
New York is one of the toughest states in the nation for criminal defendants to be able to obtain the prosecutor’s evidence against them. New York's criminal discovery laws have been draconian, and have led to massive abuses of civil rights and wrongful convictions of innocent people, because over worked criminal defense attorneys, were given discovery at the last minute, when it was too late to do any meaningful investigation. One law in particular, which our New York City and Westchester criminal defense attorneys have called the “blindfold law,” gives the prosecution the discretion to wait until the start of a trial to turn over evidence to the defense. This leaves many defendants awaiting trial feeling like they’re in the dark, leading them to accept a plea deal without knowing if there’s any substantial evidence against them. This also puts criminal defendants in the untenable position of having to learn about the case against them, while they are literally on trial. This last minute disclosure, leads to criminal prosections being sheilded from the adversay process because criminal defense attorneys simply did not have enough time to investigate the evidence. This last minute discovery allows cases to go forward, when with more time, criminal defense attorenys would see the holes in the prosecution cases and be in a better position to expose them.
But a law passed in New York Stat in April, 1999 states that in January 2020, “both prosecutors and defense attorneys will have to share all “discoverable” materials within 15 days of arraignment. The “discoverable” materials include showing the defendant witness statements, police body camera footage, and DNA tests. Plea deals taken because of the “blindfold law” are so common that in 2018, only 5 percent of indicted NYC felony cases went to trial, “and just 2 percent of all cases including misdemeanors [went to trial], according to data from the New York Office of Court Administration. This change in prosecutorial handling of materials and evidence makes many believe that there will be more trials in New York City. This is especially likely since now, criminal defense lawyers will have the time to adequately investigate the case against their clients and be able to mount meaningful defenses. To fund the imminent increase in the number of trials, New York City plans to give an additional $75 million.
Even though district attorneys’ offices are getting the bulk of the money, all five borough district attorneys have claimed that they will have problems complying with the new law and in having to hand over materials. Unfortunatley, our Westchester criminal defnse lawyers, believe that these excuses are remnants of the old practices, in which the prosecutors model is to keep the criminal defense attorneys in the dark, to make it easeir for them to convict whoever is charged, regardless of whether they are guilty or not.
The District Attorneys’ claim to be concerned that with this new discvoery law, prosecutors won’t be able to assure witnesses that their identity will be protected, “even in the case of grand jury testimony, which the new law will now require to be disclosed.”. The borough’s DAs are also claiming that processing evidence and materials within 15 days will be expensive to implement because they’ll need access to crime labs, body camera footage, and databases with a nearly two-week turnaround time. Our New York City and White Plains criminal defense lawyers believe the new law will accomplish its goal of ensuring people know their rights and won’t feel pressured to plea. We believe that if the system can afford to put someone in jail and threaten their liberty, they can afford to provide them with the evidence against them, so that their lawyers can mount a meaningful defense.