By Kevin Deutsch
Bronx District Atttorney Darcel Clark made an impassioned plea to New York State Senators Monday to provide $15 million in new few funding to her office—money she says is necessary if Bronx prosecutors are to properly carry out discovery reforms slated to take effect Jan. 1.
Those reforms, passed by lawmakers earlier this year, are part of a legislative package that will eliminate cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, and dramatically speed up the pre-trial process by requiring that misdemeanors are resolved within 90 days and felonies within 180 days. The new discovery laws require that certain materials once kept secret—namely, information and documents prosecutors plan to use against a defendant—are turned over to defense attorneys within 15 calendar days of an arraignment.
“I can assure you that on January 1 discovery will be turned over faster than it has in the past,” Clark told the New York Senate Codes Committee during a hearing on implementation of the discovery reforms. “It will be better but it will not be in 15 days. It’s impossible.”
The main reason her office does not expect to be able to meet the legal deadline: No mechanism exists for the DA’s office to quickly obtain vital records and information from the NYPD, which initially collects most of the information prosecutors will be required to turn over.
“We don’t have the mechanism to do it. We need a …portal, software, hardware,” Clark said.
Clark, who supported the broad outlines of the criminal justice reform package, said her office is scrambling to find ways to comply with the legal changes arriving in 2020.
Coupled with the new, speedy trial requirements, Clark said the discovery deadlines mean that some accused criminals are going to go free and avoid prosecution.
“The clock is going to run out on us, and cases are gong to be dismissed,” she said.
Officials on the city and state level have come under fire from New York City prosecutors for not providing proper funding for the reforms; changes they say require dramatic shifts in the way their offices handle cases.
“We need to upgrade information and technology and increase support staff,” Clark told senators. “The voluminous requests to locate and gather information should be accessible through an IT system that supports the load of information and responds to data requests to provide transparency in our prosecutions. Essentially, we are talking about software along with hardware upgrades for increased capacity. But, even if we have premier software and a data management system that can handle the increase in volume, we will still need the staff to review, redact and manage the transfer of information in compliance with the law.”
She added: “While providing discovery early is vital, remember there are people behind each case, and I don’t want them to be lost among the discussion of paperwork, videos and technology.”
Clark, whose office has come under past scrutiny for using trial delays as a strategic tool against defendants, also said the new laws will put an end to such maneuvering by prosecutors.
“The gamesmanship is over,” she said.