New York is one of 10 states where prosecutors can wait until just before trial to share evidence with defendants and their attorneys. The result is that suspects often are pushed to enter plea deals without knowing the extent of the evidence against them, reports the New York Times and The Marshall Project. In some cases, the name of an accuser is withheld until the eve of trial.
For decades, legislation to require prosecutors to turn over evidence earlier has run into stiff opposition from district attorneys, who cite the need to protect witnesses. More than a dozen such bills have failed in the past quarter-century. The politics show signs of shifting. A new effort is underway to overhaul state discovery rules, following the example of traditionally more conservative states such as North Carolina and Texas. The New York State Bar Association for the first time is backing a bill requiring prosecutors automatically to turn over police reports, witness names and statements, and grand jury testimony early in a case. The measure is backed by the Legal Aid Society and the Innocence Project, a nonprofit that helps exonerate people who have been wrongly convicted. It faces a difficult road. There is no companion bill in the Senate, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not embraced the idea.