A controversial new evidence law has led to big surges in the number of cases that prosecutors are being forced to drop across the Big Apple — fueling crime by putting suspected bad guys back on the streets without ever having to face justice, a new study obtained by The Post reveals.
The rate at which cases were dismissed citywide rose from 44% in 2019 — the year new “discovery” rules were adopted by state lawmakers — to 69% by mid-October 2021, the Manhattan Institute finds in the report, set for release Thursday.
For misdemeanor cases, the increase was even more dramatic, jumping from 49% to 82% during the same period, according to official data cited by the conservative think tank.
“The statute, therefore, has correlated with a devastating rise in crime and a drop in arrests,” author and former NYPD analyst Hannah Meyers wrote.
“In New York City, adult felony arrests fell by 14% between 2019 and 2021, while NYC shootings rose by 102% and murders rose by over 51%.”
The study blamed the alarming situation on the “clerical burden” imposed on prosecutors who must “assemble and redact limitless…documents and videos” for defense lawyers as part of the legal process called “discovery.”
When combined with the state’s “speedy trial” laws, Meyers said, assistant district attorneys simply “run out of time to try cases or file motions to extend defendants’ detention.”
The study also found that while prosecutors were busy “chasing paper” to meet discovery deadlines as short as 20 days for defendants in jail, a “staggering” number of defense lawyers didn’t even bother to review the evidence to which they were entitled.
“According to sources with firsthand knowledge of this data, during at least the first year after… implementation, in many jurisdictions defense attorneys were failing to download discovery packages within their 30-day windows in over half of cases,” Meyers wrote.
The discovery law — part of a package that also included bail reform — even allows sleazy defense lawyers to “sabotage” prosecutors by taking advantage of the “speedy-trial window,” Meyers said.
Meyers pointed to a leaked, internal guide prepared by the Legal Aid Society that reportedly noted how the new rules “are especially important in misdemeanor cases.”
“An unscrupulous defense attorney could delay filing motions to suppress evidence until the last possible moment, all while the window before the ADA must dismiss the case keeps closing,” Meyers wrote.
“Defense attorneys can easily take advantage of this new leverage, contributing to the vastly increased dismissal rates, especially on low-level offenses.”
In addition, what was once a “steady stream of qualified applicants” has been reportedly reduced to “months with no applicants at all.”
“Most attorneys are drawn to the low-paying, intrinsically high-stress role of prosecutor by a passion for making a difference for crime victims,” Meyers wrote. “But the soaring rates of case dismissals and inability of ADAs to devote sufficient time to case development as they scramble to collect discovery documents had meant that the central gratification of the role itself — representing the people and seeking justice — has been monumentally removed.”
Embattled Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, whose soft-on-crime policies led to a flurry of resignations after he took office last year, has since blamed the discovery law for his office’s “record attrition.”
In March, he told the City Council that “our ADAs burned out and sought less demanding jobs for more money.”
On Monday, Bragg also told WNYC radio that in 2021, before he took office, “1,800 or so more misdemeanor cases that timed out, they were dismissed because discovery wasn’t turned over on time.”
In a statement Wednesday, Bragg said there were “technical changes we can make to the discovery legislation” that would protect public safety “while also preserving the intent of the law.”
“We look forward to sharing more about our proposal in the coming days and will continue to collaborate with law enforcement partners, elected officials and the defense bar on this important issue,” he added.
Queens DA Melinda Katz said that while discovery reform was “overdue,” some aspects “impose burdens on the criminal justice system not seen anywhere else in the country.”
“Tens of thousands of cases were needlessly dismissed across the city last year because of the reform’s requirement that prosecutors share mounds of inconsequential information. Revisions to the reform are urgently needed,” she said.
Staten Island DA Michael McMahon also said that “onerous discovery rules have had a dramatic and negative impact on the ability of my office to secure justice for victims of crime, hold lawbreakers accountable, and prevent crime by steering people in need to meaningful programs.”
“In the last three to four years, we have lost scores of staff to the private sector and dispiritingly, to other roles in government because of the unreasonable and unnecessary demands placed on them by Albany,” he said.
“The system as currently constructed by Albany is an abject failure, and we are seeing the impacts on our streets and in our courtrooms every day.”
The incoming president of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Yung-Mi Lee of the Brooklyn Defender Services, didn’t challenge the report’s finding that discovery evidence didn’t get reviewed in 60% of cases.
“It was maybe an unforeseen technological challenge,” she said.
Lee also said that adapting to the new law “required an adjustment. And we’re still in the process of really working out the kinks at this point.”
“But I have to say, discovery reform has been incredibly eye-opening and extremely helpful,” she added.
The Legal Aid Society didn’t dispute the authenticity of the internal document Meyers said she obtained but blasted her study as “premised on a lie.”
“In fact, our team downloads discovery and disseminates evidence typically within 24 to 48 hours. The report’s author is either a liar or is so credulous and unconcerned with verifying facts that she should not be taken seriously,” a spokesperson said.