Changes to New York’s controversial bail law have dominated the budget talks. But behind the scenes, further changes to the state’s criminal justice system could be made as part of a final spending plan that is now more than two weeks past its due date.
Lawmakers are weighing with Gov. Kathy Hochul whether to make further changes to the state's discovery law first approved four years ago as a way of accelerating access to evidence for criminal defendants.
At the same time, advocates are making a final push this month to include a law that would replace a police response with crisis teams when a person is in a mental health crisis.
Both measures are part of the ongoing and broader debate surrounding criminal justice in New York state over the last several years, as officials and advocates negotiate equity in the system as well as public safety.
Former Rochester Police Deputy Chief Wayne Harris is among those calling for the measure for the crisis teams that could, in part, help improve police-community relations and better define the role of law enforcement.
"Statistics show that it’s not necessary for a uniformed police officer to always to always go to an incident involving someone having a mental health crisis," he said.
Now with the group Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Harris is backing the proposals named in honor of Daniel Prude, who died in 2020 after he was restrained by police officers. An autopsy report found Prude had the drug angel dust in his system at the time. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide caused by asphyxia. Officers involved in the incident did not face charges following an investigation.
"There are efforts underway to sort of change the dynamic of police-community relations so people don’t get hurt, officers don’t get hurt, and the level of trauma on both sides is actually lessened," Harris said.
Meanwhile, discussions have been held to make changes to the state’s discovery law that required defendants receive faster access to evidence in criminal cases. Prosecutors like Albany County District Attorney David Soares have called the requirements overly burdensome and too costly.
"The discovery reforms that were passed is the single reform that has driven more prosecutors and police out the door," he said in an interview earlier this year.
But Laurette Mulry, the attorney-in-charge for the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County, urged lawmakers to not roll back the four-year-old changes to a law meant to speed up access to a defendant's case being adjudicated.
"The landmark discovery reform laws that were passed in 2019 really did so much to even the playing field in the criminal justice sector," Mulry said.
One potential change could loosen the timetables for turning over evidence. Mulry says instead, lawmakers should consider more funding for DA offices as proposed this year by Hochul in her budget plan.
"What we’re trying to do is to make sure that discovery laws are kept in place because right now the timing allows us to be able to see the evidence — the crucial evidence — far earlier in a case," Mulry said.