Over the past several years, the issues of bail reform and discovery reform have been front and center in the world of criminal justice. When the pandemic arrived in New York two years ago, it disrupted nearly all court proceedings. At the same time, two new state laws took effect governing discovery and bail reform. The measures regarding discovery were intended to make trials fairer to defendants, and requires prosecutors to obtain and hand over hundreds of documents on many cases. At the same time, New York scaled back the use of cash bail for criminal defendants, eliminating bail for many non-violent felonies and requiring desk appearance tickets for low-level offenses.
The unintended consequences of these reforms have been far reaching. For example, prosecutors have been leaving New York City’s District Attorney’s Office in droves, citing not only the pandemic and low salaries, but the two new reform laws that have drastically changed their jobs. Prosecutors, who are now obligated to turn over 21 kinds of discoverable material to the defense, are complaining that the demands of seeking out and producing this significant amount of paperwork, is diminishing morale.
At the same time, city officials and members of the police department have been arguing that bail reform has resulted in more dangerous people being released back on to the street to commit more crimes, despite a new report from New York City’s fiscal watchdog that says that the predicted wave of recidivism has not happened. This report comes as some New York officials have considered rolling back bail reforms, which were enacted as part of an effort to address the inequity of poor people being jailed because they could not afford bail.
The cries to roll back these reforms is gaining steam. Last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed certain changes to the discovery law. In recent days, Gov. Hochul’s administrations has also circulated a draft plan that would make more crimes eligible for detention and give judges broader latitude in setting bail.