CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Part of Governor Cuomo’s criminal justice reform that went into effect on January 1 is discovery reform. The changes require the prosecution and defense to share all their information within 15 days of an arraignment, and also allows defendants to review the evidence against them before deciding whether or not to plead guilty.
According to Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen, that means speeding up the processing of that evidence in crime labs.
“We’re going to continue to see the criminal justice reforms placing increased burdens and challenges to get that done in time frames that the new legislation requires,” Heggen told News10.
New York State Police crime labs test a wide array of evidence for trials, according to Heggen, including drugs, DNA, evidence related to a sexual assault, blood and urine related to a DWI case, forensic and computer-based evidence, and even testing for the operability of firearms.
“The number of cases where we need those tests done has risen dramatically as a result of the changes in the laws, and we need it at a much earlier point in time,” Heggen told News10.
Heggen says the reform also means extra work for cases where, previously, a plea agreement could’ve been reached before the evidence had to be tested.
“In those instances, the lab was able to prioritize things, and as a result of that, not have to test everything,” Heggen told News10.
Supporters of the reform say it could make a big difference for the accused.
“Failure to provide sufficient information before accepting a guilty plea is often enough to create a miscarriage of justice,” Kate Powers, NYS Office of Attorney General told News10 in October 2019.