Discovery change draws victims’ rights concern

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Monroe County DA fears shorter window to hand over evidence will encourage witness tampering

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC-TV) — 15 days.

That’s how many days after an arraignment prosecutors in New York state will have to hand over all the evidence they have to a defendant’s legal team starting on Jan.1.

It’s a shortened window that’s part of the state’s broad new criminal justice reform package and it has Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley concerned.

“In this county we have had cases of witness intimidation and witness tampering so now we have to be aware of that within 15 days,” Doorley, a Republican, said. “Before we were giving that information out but it was well after the crime, and sometimes cooler heads would prevail, time would expire, and giving it out 45 days after didn’t cause as many issues as I see giving it out within 15 days.”

Local defense attorney Mark Foti takes issue with Doorley’s argument calling it speculation.

“The idea that that evidence is disclosed in the beginning case, it doesn’t really create a reason to believe that there would be any higher degree of witness tampering and there isn’t a high risk in any other case, but it does create a level of fairness between the prosecution who knows what evidence they have to employ or what their case looks like and the defense now has a picture of what that looks like and can make decisions based on that,” Foti said.

Jennifer Sullivan, who combats domestic violence as assistant director of community programs at Willow Center, says victims of domestic violenece might be hesitant to come forward if they know their abuser will have private information 2 weeks after an arrest.

“When a survivor decides to leave a domestic violence situation, that’s the most lethal time for a survivor and that’s the time we’re not going to take into account the victim’s safety that is a huge concern that we have,” Sullivan said.

In response to that concern, Assembymember Jamie Romeo, a Democrat, said the law allows prosecutors to petition the court to obtain a protective order that prevents the release of certain information.

“Because we’re not the first state to do this, I think people feel more confidant that we’ve left the resources and the tools in there for prosecutors to take if they feel they need to and to leave that to a judge’s decision. This just creates a set of standards now for both sides to give them that same amount of time before they go to trial,” Romeo said.

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