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N.Y. Prosecutors Must Share Discovery with Defendants Sooner and Without Prompting

A major overhaul of New York’s criminal law now requires prosecutors to share key information and evidence with defendants automatically and to do so much earlier in the pretrial process. The reforms, which took effect January 1, 2020, mark a major change in New York’s discovery law — once dubbed the “blindfold law” because it kept many defendants from seeing critical evidence.

The term “discovery” refers to the procedure by which prosecutors reveal the information and evidence in their possession as well as to the material itself. Discovery can include the names of witnesses, their statements, forensic evidence and a wide variety of other material.

Prior to this year’s discovery reforms, prosecutors were essentially able to force defendants to negotiate plea deals and prepare for trials without knowing what material was in the prosecutors’ hands, including evidence that might help exonerate them. To make matters worse, the old law forced defense lawyers to file written motions requesting that prosecutors turn over evidence. Those motions could be opposed and judges could deny them, again depriving defendants of crucial information.

The new reforms have removed the blindfold, which should make the discovery process much more open and fair. Some of the most important changes are as follows:

  • Prosecutors must automatically turn over all relevant evidence they possess. The defense does not have to file a request.
  • Prosecutors must turn over all available materials no later than 20 days after arraignment for persons in custody and 35 days for persons out of custody.
  • If a defendant facing felony charges is offered a plea deal prior to grand jury proceedings, evidence must be shared with him/her at least three days before the plea deal expires. If the plea deal is offered at any other stage of the case, evidence must be turned over at least seven days before the deal expires.
  • If a defendant decides to testify at a grand jury proceeding, the prosecution must provide the defense team with any statements made to law enforcement by the defendant at least 48 hours before the grand jury testimony.
  • Information possessed by law enforcement is treated as if it is possessed by the prosecution. Therefore, delays in a prosecutor obtaining evidence from law enforcement is not a valid excuse for missing discovery deadlines.

Defense lawyers and advocacy groups had fought for decades to have the law changed. According to criminal justice nonprofit The Marshall Project, New York’s discovery laws have been among of the most restrictive in the nation, often keeping discovery from the defense until just before trial.

The Law Office of James L. Riotto welcomes these sorely needed changes. Our Rochester and Albany criminal defense lawyers are already using the new law to protect the rights of our clients. If you are accused of a crime or have questions about criminal procedure in general, please call us at 866-772-2122 or contact us online today.

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James L. Riotto
Criminal Defense Lawyer

James L. Riotto is an accomplished criminal defense attorney serving clients in New York. With an extensive background in law enforcement and criminal prosecution, his approach to each case is unique and informed by years of experience with the New York criminal justice system. As a graduate from Albany Law School and before going on to start his own practice, James worked at the Albany County District Attorney's Office, where he helped prosecute many DWI offenses. His inside knowledge of the tactics used to gain convictions provides him with a particular advantage when defending against DUI and other criminal charges.

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Adam D. Staier
Of Counsel

About Attorney Adam Staier has spent the last seven years practicing criminal defense law throughout upstate New York and the Capital Region. He began his legal career through internships in civil law, indigent legal representation and federal energy law regulation. Finding a passion in criminal law, Mr. Staier held internships handling both prosecution and defense…

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William M. Swift
Associate Attorney

About William M. Swift is an associate attorney at the Law Office of James L. Riotto and brings 20 years of experience to our clients. His practice focuses on personal injury cases and criminal matters. He has successfully represented individuals in felony, misdemeanor cases. Additionally, he has extensive knowledge in DMV administrative proceedings involving suspensions…

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