Prosecutors: Criminal justice reform should not threaten safety of witnesses and victims

February 11, 2019 07:21 PM

ALBANY -- New York lawmakers are grappling with a number of criminal justice reforms right now. However, prosecutors are concerned that legislation could threaten the safety of witnesses and victims. 

There are so many complex issues involved, and prosecutors are concerned this is being rushed.  

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They worry about the possible release of the names and home addresses of witnesses and victims, only days after an arrest. 

Albany County District Attorney David Soares says prosecutors believe in bail reform and discovery reform.   "The thing we're concerned about is providing witness and victim information so early on in the process that it dissuades people from coming forward," he said. 

Under proposed legislation, defense attorneys would get case information within 15 days of arraignment. The defendant would get not only the names, but also the home addresses of witnesses and victims.

The measure also stops defendants from taking pleas right away.  Experts say downstate especially, many defendants plead out at arraignment. Critics argue it all becomes the opposite of speedy trials.  Lawmakers say there's a lot to discuss. 

"I do believe it's a work in progress," said Assemblyman John McDonald (D - Cohoes).  "I do believe that we can make some modifications to address some of the district attorneys' concerns, maybe not all of them, but some.  We need to be reasonable."

Lawmakers say they don't want suspects to languish in jail. 

"Get it right, correct so many of the historic wrongs, but do it in a way that is fair on both sides," said Assemblywoman Pat Fahy (D - Albany).  "And protects the victims in terms of discovery reform.  You want to make sure that you have people who are also protected while we try to make the system much, much more just."

Lawmakers have now pushed back action on the criminal justice package until at least after their February break, as they hammer out the issues. 

However, while some say reform is needed, they argue that it has to be well thought-out and informed. 

"Especially in this particular term, everything is being fast-tracked and so it forces all of these discussions to be had in such an unreasonable period of time," said Soares.  "And ultimately results can be something that we don't want.  When I say we don't want, I mean society doesn't want."

Soares pointed out that the Justice Task Force, which is made up of everyone from advocates to defense attorneys to judges, has done a lot of work on this and other issues, and is publishing its recommendations shortly.


Kumi Tucker

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