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Westchester County District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr. and staff hosted a presentation and training session for law enforcement leadership and personnel on Discovery and Bail Reform in New York State which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020. Over 200 members of local police departments, State and County Police, and other law enforcement organizations attended the briefing.

While the DA’s Office has been preparing for its implementation since the summer and meeting with individual police departments, this was the first full group training session for law enforcement serving Westchester County by the DA’s Office. Today’s conference was held in the Westchester County Courthouse.

DA Scarpino opened the session with the importance of the new criminal justice reform laws and how the DA’s Office is working to make the process as seamless as possible across agencies and the defense bar. DA Scarpino assured them the Office is putting in place all the mechanisms needed to be in full compliance as of Jan. 1. First Deputy DA Paul Noto addressed the conference describing the need for clear understanding and implementation of the new laws.

Specific presentations were given by Deputy District Attorney Steve Vandervelden on the intricacies of discovery reform and the process to meet the statute; and Assistant District Attorney Cynthia Adimari, Rye Bureau Chief, explained the new bail law. The presentations described the fine points of the new statutes and how police and prosecutors will collaborate to meet the more stringent timelines for turning over pretrial discovery materials. Changes in how the bail structure will change in both local courts and at the County level were laid out fully. In addition, they covered the concerns of witnesses and victims.

Part of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office work is training police departments on the new statutes and, in this case, the specific management of case materials. The DA’s Office is building an electronic content management system to handle the flow and storage of all discovery materials from police, to the DA’s Office and to defense attorneys. The new e-discovery portal is being funded through forfeiture funds.

Internally, the Westchester DA’s Office continues to test and build the e-discovery portal, train support staff in local court bureaus and branches and ADAs on how to comply with the new 2020 laws.

DA Scarpino and his leadership team have discussed the new protocols and office staffing needs with County Executive Latimer and his leadership as well as the County Board of Legislators to explain the need for additional ADAs and paralegals to handle the workload. The Office has conducted a number of tests to grasp the additional person-hours needed to complete full discovery on a variety of cases within the 15-day parameter.

Last week, DA Scarpino and his leadership team met with members of the Westchester County state legislative delegation to discuss discovery reform and how the DA’s Office is impacted in terms of personnel and the cost of additional staff, workflow and caseload. It was a productive session, informing our State Senate and Assemblymembers, including Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Sen. Jamaal Bailey, Chair of the Codes Committee and primary sponsor of the Discovery Law, of the preparation for implementation that has been operative for the last few months and will continue for the rest of the year.

The new discovery law (NYS CPL Article 245) impacts police departments and district attorneys in the volume of pretrial materials that they must collect and turn over to the defense counsel in an accelerated time frame. Every case, from misdemeanor to Class A felonies, must be handled the same way. Police must turn over all case materials, including police surveillance video, 911 calls, police reports, lab reports and more, to prosecutors who must certify the materials are in legal compliance. Then, the DA’s Office must turn over all “discovery materials” to defense counsel within 15 days, whether or not the case will go to trial.

In addition, the law calls for turning over contact information for witnesses and victims as part of discovery, unless a protective order is sought by the prosecutor. This is another stage where police and prosecutors will work closely.

As of 2020, there will be no bail and no pretrial detention in all but the most serious felony cases. Cash bail and detention are still permitted in virtually all violent felonies, except for specific subsections of burglary and robbery in the second degree. Bail and detention also are permitted in cases classified as Class A felonies, most of which involve violence. These are deemed “qualifying offenses.”

Judges are encouraged to release defendants “on their own recognizance” while their cases are pending. In these cases, defendants are under no restriction and must simply appear in court for their scheduled appearance. Judges must release defendants unless they pose “a risk of flight.”