The Legal Aid Society called on Queens County District Attorney (QCDA) Melinda Katz to improve her office’s evidence sharing practices that currently subvert New York’s reformed criminal discovery statute and contribute to court delay, as reported by the Queens Daily Eagle.
In 2019, Albany reformed New York’s outmoded criminal discovery laws to ensure the prosecutors disclosed key evidence in a timely fashion to the defense. Since the implementation of these reforms, New York City’s District Attorneys established electronic sharing practices to ensure compliance with the new law’s disclosure requirements. The DAs in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island devised systems that, for the most part, organized evidence by type and noted the specific evidence’s name on PDFs and other documents.
However, in Queens, Melinda Katz’s prosecutors do not organize discovery documents in any logical way, requiring defense attorneys to comb through hundreds of documents to discern exactly what they are. This has contributed to court delays, and it has undermined the spirit of discovery reform. Since the reforms were first enacted more than two years ago, this broken practice has impacted all 41,231 homicide, felony and misdemeanor Legal Aid cases in the borough.
For example, in a recent Queens case, a Legal Aid attorney received over 400 unnamed documents, many of them duplicates, demanding unnecessary hours of work from counsel to open, review and organize each file. On a recently concluded felony case, the QCDA provided 3,000 discovery documents which were also unnamed, requiring the same laborious review, sorting and naming.
Legal Aid has met with Katz’s office multiple times over the course of two years to raise these concerns but the office has so far refused to implement any changes to the practice.
“This practice is unfair and onerous, demanding countless hours from our attorneys and staff to review and organize,” said Diana Nevins, an attorney with the Queens Trial Office at The Legal Aid Society. “New York’s other District Attorney offices have better adapted to the new laws, sharing in a way that is more upfront and efficient, and there is no logical reason why DA Katz cannot adopt these methods into her office’s practices. We’ve communicated our frustration with DA Katz and hope that her office remedies this problem immediately.”
Last Updated: 22 November 2022
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