By Tina Luongo
June 5, 2019
Manhattan: In their op-ed, Seth Barron and Ralf Mangual sharply condemn New York’s new “open file” criminal discovery rules as radical and dangerous (“Big risks in discovery reform,” June 3). Hysterically, they suggest that witnesses will no longer report crimes and even that those accused of a crime will have the right to enter victims’ homes. These are sheer fantasies — and their falsehood is easily shown.
Discovery laws requiring district attorneys to disclose witnesses’ names and contact information are basic to a fair and reliable criminal justice system. No state that has reformed its discovery rules has ever omitted it. By now, more than 40 states use the same rule. New Jersey has used it since 1973, and Florida since 1968. Even the “red states” of Texas (2014) and North Carolina (2004) successfully adopted these rules.
The other false claim — that New Yorkers accused of a crime now have a right to enter witnesses’ homes — is refuted by reading the actual law. Judges have authority to let only a lawyer obtain access to inspect a crime scene if necessary for a fair trial, but only after weighing the witness’s and the district attorney’s input as well. The judge can also direct police officers to accompany the lawyer. This is a fair, limited and commonsense rule — and in fact, it has long applied in civil lawsuits in New York State.
In short, the new laws are not an experiment. They have proven to be workable and fair for decades. They are long overdue, and Albany’s lawmakers deserve major credit for finally bringing some basic fairness to New York’s criminal justice process. Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge, criminal defense practice, The Legal Aid Society