HUDSON — Changes to bail and pretrial discovery have prosecutors across the state scrambling to prepare for the rollout of sweeping criminal justice reforms.
Columbia and Greene County district attorneys and their staffs are training hundreds of police officers to ensure a smooth transition after the law takes effect Jan. 1, 2020.
Under new bail restrictions, judges will not be allowed to order defendants jailed pending trial unless they are charged with certain violent crimes or sex crimes. Instead, desk appearance tickets will be issued in nearly all cases, including low-level felony cases. The court can select nonmonetary alternative conditions to assure a defendant returns to court, such as supervision by a pretrial services agency, reasonable restrictions on travel or, in extreme cases, electronic monitoring. Electronic monitoring can be imposed only if the person is charged with a felony or certain misdemeanors.
In terms of discovery, the new law requires prosecutors to give defendants all materials associated with the investigation within 15 days of arraignment. The list includes the names and contact information for all witnesses, including alleged victims. Prosecutors can request a protective order to deny the disclosure of any information provided under the new discovery. A judge must hold a hearing within three business days to determine whether “good cause” has been established to issue the order.
“As you can imagine, this is a substantial change in the manner in which all cases will be handled and will require a substantial increase in our workload,” Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka said.
But questions remain about the burden the new laws will place on prosecutors and the courts.
“It is no secret that compliance with the new rules will be challenging,” Greene County District Attorney Joseph Stanzione said. “Those who passed the legislation obviously did not have a full grasp of just how vast discovery really is, or how much time it takes to identify certain evidence.”
For example, the new rules require delivery of all reports to the defense within 15 days, Stanzione said.
“However, when a crime scene involves DNA evidence, it will take several months for DNA to be analyzed, and results to be reduced to a report,” Stanzione said.
Czajka has assigned his assistant district attorneys the task of familiarizing themselves with the new law and training the officers, with assistance from the New York Prosecutors Training Institute and the state District Attorneys Association.
Lt. Wayne Lopez of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office said 60 employees trained on the new discovery reforms in August. All 49 troopers and sergeants, eight investigators, the captain and lieutenant of the state police are receiving instructions on the new law changes.
Officers are being trained in groups. On Monday, a training session was held at Hudson Police Department by Columbia County Assistant DAs Joyce Crawford and Ryan Carty. Both ADAs will train all police officers who work in the county, i.e. Columbia County Sheriff’s investigators, deputies, Hudson Police detectives and officers, New York State Bureau and troopers, local police departments, including (Greenport, Chatham and Stockport) and state Park Police.
Last month, Stanzione held a seminar at the meeting wherein he presented a slide presentation setting forth the new discovery rules and requirements.
“The plan in Greene County is for my office to continue meeting with the nine police agencies of Greene County on a monthly bases for purposes of training and working together to formulate various means to best meet the new discovery requirements,” he said.