NY Senate Minority Leader voices concerns for witness safety, citing discovery reform changes

NY Capitol News

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — New York’s criminal discovery reforms are being called into question by Republicans over the issue of witness safety. Videos of a law enforcement officer interviewing an alleged participant in a shooting about criminal activity, including burglaries and gun purchases, were posted online over the summer.

“It says don’t come forward. That’s what it says. Unless you want to be broadcast all over the internet,” said Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt.

The two videos were posted by an unknown individual in June. One has more than 33,000 views, and the other has hundreds. Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt’s office said the Albany County District Attorney’s Office was required to provide a defense attorney with the videos due to mandatory discovery. 

“… I voiced concern that mandated early discovery in every case could result in [the] potential for increased witness intimidation. The protective order is a feckless shield designed to provide comfort and peace of mind only to the authors of this poorly conceived law, and not the people living in the communities hardest hit by violence…” Albany County District Attorney David Soares said in a statement.

The discovery reforms passed through the state legislature in 2019. Advocates said they were meant to provide sufficient information to defendants before accepting a guilty plea, and that the changes could make a big impact for the accused. But Ortt said it’s had other consequences. 

“The consequence of this long-term is going to be fewer people are going to want to cooperate with the authorities, and that is going to make prosecuting crimes much more difficult,” Ortt said.

President of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York Sandra Doorley echoed that saying, “Any type of rogue or secondary disclosure of material that identifies a witness or attempts to threaten a witness is a fundamental threat to the rule of law and ultimately makes it more difficult to detect and prosecute crimes.”

“… The new expanded discovery law also triggers a need for more services related to witness protection and relocation as well as the need for more victim services advocates in police departments and prosecutor’s offices,” she continued.

Additionally, she said there’s currently no way to “adequately investigate or hold someone accountable” for releasing these types of videos and “no clear process” to request the removal of them.

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