New Discovery Rules Increase Defendants’ Access to Prosecutors’ Files

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As of 2020, New York has adopted major changes to its discovery rules in criminal cases, making more information available to defendants quickly and easily. Until the reforms, New York’s criminal discovery law — sometimes called the “blindfold law” — was among the most restrictive in the nation.

Discovery is the process by which lawyers on both sides of a case exchange evidence and information prior to trial. This gives both sides an opportunity to thoroughly prepare and to shape their case without being subject to unfair surprises. In criminal cases, the discovery process can produce a great deal of information for the defense, including physical evidence, witness lists, witness statements and investigative reports.

One of the most significant changes to the discovery law is that prosecutors must turn over any relevant information to the defense within 20 days of arraignment if the defendant is being held in police custody and 35 days if the defendant has been released. Prior to the new law, prosecutors were obligated to do this only when the defense submitted a written motion, which could be opposed by prosecutors. There was also no specific deadline for delivery.

Under the new law, after the prosecution has handed over its information, the defense has 30 days to reciprocate. The prosecution has an extra 30 days to hand over discoverable materials that are “exceptionally voluminous” or materials the prosecution has yet to receive.

The changes to the statute also added some new discoverable materials. For example, it is now mandatory for prosecutors to hand over the names and contact information of people with information pertinent to the case, even if an individual on the list won’t be testifying at the trial.

On the other hand, the amendments allow prosecutors to withhold information and the identities of witnesses if they can establish good cause, such as that a witness’s safety might be jeopardized. They must notify the defense attorneys that they’re doing this, however, and the defense has a right to ask the court to force the prosecution to disclose the information.

At the Law Office of Maurice J. Verrillo, P.C. in Rochester, we know how to use New York discovery rules aggressively in criminal defense representation. Call us at 585-563-1134 or contact us online to receive a free 30-minute initial consultation.


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