Justice Is Blindfolded

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In New York, people accused of crimes are denied access to the most important information in their case. 

Unlike the rest of the country, New York's "discovery" law does not require the prosecutor to turn over any information, such as police reports, until trial begins -- months or even years after an arrest. As 95% of convictions come from guilty pleas, most New Yorkers may never see any evidence at all. They are in the dark.

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What is Discovery?

Discovery is the process by which prosecutors share information with the defense. Police reports. Witness statements. The name of an accuser. Video surveillance. Information about eyewitnesses. Crime scene photos. 911 calls. Medical Records. DNA results. A note on a little slip of paper that could lead to exoneration. All the information the prosecution has related to the case. 

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NY Discovery Is Unjust

New York's discovery laws allow prosecutors to withhold evidence until the day of trial. That's far too late. WITNESSES DISAPPEAR, VIDEO GETS TAPED OVER, MEMORIES FADE. In the majority of cases, people are compelled to plead guilty without seeing the evidence against them.

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What's at stake.

Imagine heading into trial. Your life, family, career, freedom is on the line. And you haven't seen any evidence. Imagine being forced to make the most important decision of your life, whether to plead guilty or not, and you don't even know who is accusing you. That's the reality for New Yorkers.

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Exhibit A.

Discovery promotes truth.

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IN NEW YORK, THE VAST MAJORITY OF PEOPLE CHARGED WITH A CRIME WILL NEVER SEE CRUCIAL EVIDENCE COLLECTED BY POLICE AND PROSECUTORS.

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Even in Brooklyn, the county known to give the most discovery, here are the numbers:

56%
of people pled guilty before the prosecutor turned over any information at all.
92%
of people pled guilty to drug offenses before the prosecutor turned over any drug lab.
1 in 2
people who pled guilty to jail sentences never saw any information at all.

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IN MOST NEW YORK COUNTIES, THESE NUMBERS ARE EVEN MORE STARK.

Because the law does not require the District Attorney to share documents and evidence with the defense, each can decide what their policy will be. In most of the state, prosecutors turn over nothing until trial. This deprives people accused of crimes and their attorneys of the opportunity to review the information before trial starts or before they must decide whether or not to accept a plea.

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THE RESULT: DELAYED TRIALS AT TAXPAYER EXPENSE. IMPAIRED LEGAL REPRESENTATION. UNINFORMED PLEA DECISIONS. WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS.

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Exhibit B.

Discovery prevents wrongful convictions.

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Access to Evidence Makes All the Diference.

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Sean, 36.

Works Security, 2 Children.

Falsely accused of robbery of a taxicab driver.

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Jason, 28

Homeless

Entered a convenience store after hours and stole 12 Red Bulls and 4 packs of cigarettes.

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Exhibit C.

Discovery allows
informed decisions.

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New York Needs Reform.

New York state lags far behind the discovery laws and practices of the rest of the country. Over the past thirty years, most other states have passed discovery laws that provide the accused with critical information early in the case. Yes, even Texas.

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New York is an outlier. It has one of the most unjust discovery laws in the country.

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Over the past thirty years, most other states have adopted open and fair discovery laws in tandem with other laws and practices that give the defendant critical evidence early and automatically.

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“Texas is known as a law and order state. With that tradition, however, comes a very powerful responsibility to make sure our judicial process is as transparent and open as humanly possible.”

Governor Rick Perry, upon signing comprehensive discovery reform into law in Texas in 2013.

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Exhibit D.

Discovery ensures fairer & more expedient case outcomes.

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A national Consensus

Right now, New York district attorneys are using scare tactics about witness safety to block reforms in a desperate attempt to retain their power instead of promote justice. New York prosecutors are asking lawmakers to ignore clear consensus and evidence from around the country that reform works *and* protects witnesses, as well as robust witness safety protections in NY's reform legislation itself. 

In February 2019, two special victims prosecutors in Texas sent a strong message to New York prosecutors: Open and transparent discovery is in everyone's interest--from the prosecutors and police to the accused--and critically, does not compromise witness safety.

"Open discovery helps restore Texans’ faith in our criminal justice system. After five years of reform, there hasn’t been any increased security concern for witnesses or victims. We hope that New York can learn from our experience."

Witness Protections in NY Reform Bill

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Exhibit E.

Discovery powers the presumption of innocence.

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The time is now.

The New York State Assembly and New York State Senate have put out proposals that would bring about true progressive discovery reform. Governor Andrew Cuomo has now made clear that discovery reform in New York is a critical priority for the State in 2019: 

"Defendants are often left completely in the dark regarding what information the government intends to use against them. No longer will those who are charged with a crime be left in the dark and pressured to admit guilt simply to avoid the unknown."

For four decades, people accused of crimes in New York have suffered and justice has been undermined. We finally have an opportunity to make things right and Repeal New York's 'Blindfold Law.' 

WE CAN DO IT. WE NEED YOUR HELP. TAKE ACTION.

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Got a story to tell?

Affected by New York's discovery laws? Whether you’re a frontline practitioner or personally touched in some way by the system, we’d love to hear from you.

Share your Story

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A broad coalition of local and national organizations support discovery reform.

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