In response to a new state law set to take effect in January that will require police departments to turn over all evidence in criminal cases to the Nassau County district attorney’s office, Lynbrook Police Chief Brian Paladino said the department has been working hard to prepare for the change.
“We have to provide full discovery before a person has to make a plea,” Paladino said. “This would be a 300 percent increase in workload for finding radio transmissions and 911 recordings, and that could be up to 200 to 300 hours of work time.”
Paladino noted that the LPD now has 49 police officers, and will make about 280 arrests by the end of 2019. In the past, he noted, only about 75 of them required a full discovery process, but now every arrest will have to undergo the procedure, which, Paladino said, the department is not yet ready to handle.
Once the D.A.’s office has received the evidence, county officials must provide copies to a defendant or defense team within 15 days after an indictment.
District Attorney Madeline Singas agreed with Paladino, saying that the new law would be a “huge burden for small police departments and a huge burden on the budgetary needs in Nassau County.”
“You can say you want this stuff in whatever your time limits are,” Singas said, “but who’s going to pay [and] help to expedite these services? . . . There’s no money from Albany. It’s going to be very tight.” For Nassau County, processing all evidence from 25 different departments will be complicated, time-consuming and expensive, Singas added.
In Lynbrook, complying with the unfunded mandate could increase police overtime, but the true impact will be unknown until the new law takes effect, Paladino said. He said he believed discovery reform is needed to speed up the county court system, but added that the new mandate was “too much too soon.” He noted that the department was notified of the change in August and was given five months to implement major changes.
“This was passed as a budget line,” Paladino said, “and I hope they find this whole thing unconstitutional because you’re not supposed to be changing law in a budget line.”
Paladino said he was also feeling uneasy about a new bail reform measure, under which 400 prisoners will be released from the Nassau County jail by Jan. 1, and which would also eliminate the necessity for accused criminals to post bail. “We’re going to be releasing violent people on the night of the arrest,” he said, “and there’s not a lot of incentive for them to show up to court.”
According to a 2017 Marshall Project report, New York had one of the most restrictive discovery laws in the nation, which had not been changed since 1979, and allowed prosecutors to withhold information until a case went to trial.
Prosecutors were not previously obliged to turn over evidence, according to Hofstra University law professor Barbara Barron. Only when a judge ordered a district attorney to do so was evidence handed over, she said.
“The defendant has a right to prepare a defense,” Barron said. “A defendant is entitled to have a full, fair day in court.” The new law will allow accused criminals to mount vigorous defenses.
Barron said the old law was, in part, intended to protect prosecution witnesses. The new measure, however, does permit prosecutors to request protective orders from judges, allowing prosecutors to withhold witness information on a case-by-case basis.
State Assemblywoman Taylor Darling, a Democrat from the Village of Hempstead, and Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre, a Democrat from Wheatley Heights, were the only Assembly members from Long Island to co-sponsor the new law before it was voted on earlier this year. Darling said that it would level the playing field and give everyone a fair chance at due process.
“Through this bill, I feel that we are going to address inequalities,” Darling said. “We are available to work with the municipalities, but we’re also taking care of people who can’t advocate for themselves.”
But Paladino said the change would force Lynbrook to alter the way it gathers and processes data in order to stay in line with the requirement, and added that vehicle and traffic tickets will also be more closely scrutinized.
Mayor Alan Beach was also outspoken in his opposition to the change. “Our elected officials have a duty to keep our public safe, and they passed a law while not even reading what they were voting for,” he said. “. . . This is a mandated law with no assistance from the state.”
Beach added that it could cost village taxpayers up to $1 million, and shared Paladino’s fears of eliminating bail. “Criminals could rob your house, get caught, be released and return to robbing your house the very next day,” he said. “This seems to be a law to protect criminals, not the law-abiding citizens.”
Paladino said the department might have to hire an additional officer to stay up to date with the changes. Each LPD member starts at a $50,000 salary, which includes health benefits. He added that the village court was also looking into hiring another employee.
“It’s going to cause a hole in the budget,” Paladino said of the new discovery law, “and we’ll either have to reduce services or increase taxes.”