STATEMENT BY LGBTQ, WOMEN, AND SURVIVOR ADVOCACY ORGANIZATIONS IN SUPPORT OF THE DISCOVERY FOR JUSTICE REFORM ACT (S.1716-Bailey/A.1431-Lentol)
New York, NY (Feb. 6, 2019) – Today, five leading LGBTQ, women, and survivor advocacy organizations released the following statement in support of enacting early, open, and automatic discovery reform in New York State.
“As advocates for survivors of violence, including Black and Latinx, immigrant, LGBTQ and gender non-binary New Yorkers, we strongly support urgent reforms to dismantle injustice in our society and end mass incarceration in our state. Specifically, we urge the Legislature to pass and the Governor to sign early, open, and automatic discovery reform legislation (S.1716/A.1431) immediately.
For too long, New Yorkers, including survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual violence, have been criminalized and punished without ever having access to the evidence in their cases. Under New York’s current law, prosecutors are not required to turn over police reports or other crucial information until the eve of trial, making it impossible to prepare a defense. Worse, New York is one of only four states where prosecutors do not have to turn over evidence prior to offering a plea deal. This means that New Yorkers are making critical decisions about their lives without even the basic facts of the case. Like all aspects of the criminal legal system, this injustice disproportionately harms marginalized people, as well as communities targeted by over-policing. It also fails to serve the interests of survivors. There is no justice in wrongful convictions or coerced pleas, and many survivors are themselves criminalized.
Discovery reform does not threaten the safety of survivors of assault and abuse. Nearly every other state in the country has passed discovery reform, leading to greater justice and transparency, and not to witness or victim intimidation. Furthermore, the proposed discovery law has very specific provisions to protect the safety of survivors, in the rare cases where they may be threatened if their information is shared with people facing criminal allegations or the defendant’s attorney. In these cases, judges have the discretion to withhold that information, as very clearly stated in the Discovery for Justice Reform Act. We reject calls by prosecutors for the unilateral power to withhold or redact information that may prove crucial to the defense of criminalized LGBTQ people, women, immigrant, and people of color survivors of violence. Early discovery turnover helps cases to move forward faster and more fairly, an outcome in the interest of survivors and all New Yorkers.
As advocates, we are acutely aware that too often, survivors’ experiences are exploited when prosecutors work to pass laws to give themselves broad discretion and leverage in court, in order to increase convictions, but the people we serve want to move forward with their lives,and economic stability, housing, health care, and trauma-informed services can support them in doing that. Denial of discovery does not serve this purpose. Instead, it increases the unchecked power of prosecutors and contributes to the unjust incarceration of Black and brown people, including women of color, LGBTQ people, and immigrants.
We call on policymakers to stand strong for justice and pass comprehensive discovery reform (S.1716/A.1431) this year.”
Ali Forney Center
Center for Anti-Violence Education
Girls for Gender Equity
NYC Anti-Violence Project
STEPS to End Family Violence
Survived and Punished NY
Sylvia Rivera Law Project