Governor Kathy Hochul is targeting crime as she begins her first full term in office. To address the issue, she’s increasing funding for changes to how evidence is handled in criminal cases. The move is part of her public safety agenda.
“We are not going to allow people to commit crimes and violate our laws and hurt other individuals,” Hochul stated last week after visiting the Albany Public Safety Building. “We’re finding many, many ways to address it.”
The changes to the discovery process, which require defendants to receive faster access to evidence in criminal cases, have created a major headache for local prosecutors, according to Albany County District Attorney David Soares. Issues range from simple redactions to complex issues with incompatible technology across multiple law enforcement agencies.
“It has literally changed the practice of criminal law all across the state,” Soares said in an interview. The changes have strained resources for law enforcement who must review each piece of evidence before it is turned over.
Soares also pointed out that the changes, along with ending cash bail requirements for many criminal charges, have led to an increase in recidivism. The added workload of paperwork is also taking a toll on workers, leading some to use their weekends to complete the evidence process.
“The discovery reforms that were passed is the single reform that has driven more prosecutors and police out the door,” Soares said. In response to the challenges faced by district attorney offices, Hochul is increasing funding from $12 million to $52 million to implement the changes.
Democratic state Assemblyman Steve Otis is open to the idea of additional funding. “One thing we learned when we changed the discovery laws, is it takes more work, there are time tables and the criminal justice system needs resources to comply with that, get information to everybody who deserves it,” Otis said.
However, Republicans like Assemblyman Phil Palmesano believe that the discovery changes should never have been made in the first place. “It should have been done a long time ago,” Palmesano said of the funding, “but there also should be more conversations with our district attorneys about these mandates causing problems with our criminal justice system.”
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