New York's so-called "bail reform" has generated a lot of angst for police, prosecutors, crime victims special interest groups and state legislators. And the controversy continues to swirl.
But if you talk to police who are dealing with the state's criminal justice law changes, the criminal case evidence "discovery" rules that took effect Jan. 1 are much more of a headache than the new bail laws.
The new evidence rules require prosecutors to turn over all evidence to defendants and/or their counsel within 15 days of arrest. That is months before it would have occurred under the old system, and under the old system all of the material would not be turned over unless a case was headed to trial.
Since the overwhelming majority of criminal cases are resolved without a trial, that has resulted in new layers of work, for which police agencies have had to hire new staff.
But that new staff is charged only with ensuring documents, videos, etc., get to prosecutors to turn over to defense counsel.
Arresting officers themselves have to make sure all of the evidence is prepared to be turned over. And that has resulted in hours of time in the station instead of on the road.
State troopers, for instance, have to complete a new 18-page checklist after an arrest to make sure everything is available for prosecutors. So a minor misdemeanor drug arrest that would have generated about 40 minutes of paperwork, for instance, now results in as much as 4 hours of work.
Those hours are hours that would normally be spent on patrol, investigating open crimes or responding to calls, and now it's being spent at a desk. So statistics will show that crime is going down, at least as far as arrests go, because there are fewer officers out on proactive patrol.
But fewer arrests doesn't mean crime is going down. It just means fewer criminals are being caught.
-- Don Lehman
Don Lehman covers police and court matters, Warren County government and the outdoors. He can be reached at 518-742-3224 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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