NEW YORK, NY — In 2019, New York passed a new discovery statute, Criminal Procedure Law Article 245, to help ensure prosecutors provide defense attorneys with sufficient evidence in time for defendants to make informed plea-bargain decisions, as discovery reveals the strength of the evidence prosecutors have against them. However, these new requirements have placed an untenable compliance burden on New York’s criminal justice system, making it neither just nor appropriately adversarial. In a new Manhattan Institute report, fellow and director of policing and public safety Hannah E. Meyers chronicles the systemic harms caused by 245 and offers several course corrections.
Under 245, prosecutors are now obligated to collect material even wholly irrelevant to a case – and they must do it in impossibly short 20- or 35-day timeframes. Court data records prosecutors successfully meeting these discovery obligations within 20 days on a scant 3% of felony cases statewide. And if discovery obligations are not met within New York’s unique “speedy trial clock” windows, cases get dismissed automatically. As a result, NYC case dismissals surged from 42% of disposed cases in the first 11 months of 2019 to 69% in that same period of 2021. And the percentage of dismissals from overwhelmed prosecutors simply running out of time doubled in 2022. In addition to thousands of viable cases being dismissed as prosecutors are forced to triage their caseload, 245 has also disincentivized witness cooperation, contributed to mass attrition in district attorneys’ offices, and added unnecessary financial burden.
Meyers’ recommendations seek to maximize the ability for every party—prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges—to do their jobs as professionally, efficiently, and meaningfully as possible. To do so, discovery guidelines should ensure that prosecutors turn over all material defense attorneys want and need to provide the best council to their clients. Anything more is a waste of department resources and a detriment to the fairness of the criminal justice system.