A New York State Bar Association task force will examine the criminal discovery process in the state and recommend ways to make it fairer. State bar president Seymour James, attorney-in-charge of the criminal practice at the Legal Aid Society, has made formation of a panel on Criminal Discovery Reform one of the priorities of his term. James said he hopes the task force will “help bring about needed reforms.”
“New York’s discovery statute sets significant limitations on the material available to the opposition in criminal cases,” James said in a statement. “In fact, New York’s statute is one of the most restrictive in the country.”
The task force will be cochaired by Mark Dwyer, an acting Supreme Court justice in Brooklyn and a former top aide to Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau; and Peter Harvey, a Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler partner who served as New Jersey attorney general. The group will prepare a report on discovery practices and make recommendations that will be presented to the state bar’s policy-setting House of Delegates for adoption.
Critics of discovery practices allege that prosecutors do not fully share the evidence against defendants in a way that would allow them to mount the strongest defense or to weigh plea offers with an accurate picture of what they will have to overcome at trial. The state bar recently drew the ire of prosecutors when Marvin Schechter, chairman of the group’s Criminal Justice Section, said district attorneys sometimes instruct assistants to withhold materials that should be disclosed to the defense under Brady v. Maryland, 373 US 83 (NYLJ, July 30). After prosecutors objected, the section passed a resolution saying that Schechter’s opinion was his own and did not reflect the group’s position.