OLEAN — The city police force might be hiring in the near future to help comply with new evidence rules from the state.
On Tuesday, Police Chief Jeff Rowley told the city’s public safety committee that he may have to hire more staff to handle the task of collecting evidence and providing it to the district attorney’s office so it can be in the hands of the defense within 15 days of arraignment.
“Every arrest we make, we have to turn it over in five days to the DA’s office,” Rowley said, with that office needing 10 days to organize and transfer the information.
Typically, Rowley said, such an effort is done during discovery — a legal stage before trial. However, as the vast majority of cases result in guilty pleas, discovery is often not reached before a case is completed.
Now, he said, discovery comes immediately after arraignment.
“If you don’t get it to them in a timely manner (the defense) could move to suppress any evidence that they weren’t given, or even move to have the case dismissed,” Rowley said.
Also changed was the scope of discovery, with the prosecution having to turn over information including materials favorable to the defense, information on rewards, promises or inducements offered to prosecution witnesses, contact information for any person with relevant information and a list of all law enforcement who have evidence or other information on the case.
Advocates of the changes argue that increased access to evidence found in discovery will improve defense efforts, as well as improving accountability of law enforcement.
According to the Center for Court Innovation, “the reform requires significantly greater openness and establishes specific time frames for the sharing of evidence between the prosecution and defense during the pretrial period.” With discovery reform, New York joins 46 other states that have adopted comparable “open discovery” laws.
“By imposing accelerated discovery timelines, the reform may shrink case processing times, resulting in shorter jail stays for defendants held in pretrial detention,” the Center for Court Innovation states. “By facilitating a defendant’s ability to prepare a defense, the reform may also result in fewer prison or jail sentences.”
However, Rowley said his biggest concern in charge of a small city police force is the staffing to get the job done.
“I don’t have the bodies lying around,” he said. “I’d like to hire someone to do this.”
It won’t just be anyone off the street, he added.
“This person is going to need substantial training,” Rowley said, noting a knowledge of criminal justice is vital, as well as technical skills to use “four or five differnet computer systems and upload it” to the DA’s office.
He added the person does not need to be a police officer, but the training would be a plus.
“The bail reform act is a nightmare for us,” he said, noting that most offenders — even those accused of resisting arrest, drunk driving and mid-level drug dealing will be released without bail.
The bail reform in particular came about after issues in New York City.
Recent high-profile cases of long pretrial detentions and deaths of inmates at Rikers Island jail in New York City led state lawmakers to pass a series of reforms in the past few years, the chief and city attorney said.
“You had people sit in Rikers for over a year because they weren’t able to post the $1,500 bail,” said city attorney Nick DiCerbo.
Meanwhile, others remanded to Rikers have faced years of legal wrangling as prosecutors attempted to build cases.
(Contact City Editor Bob Clark at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)