POUGHKEEPSIE – The Public Safety Committee of the Dutchess County Legislature passed a resolution allowing for the hiring of three new assistant district attorneys, an investigator, two program assistants, and a secretary to handle the added workload created by the state’s new criminal justice laws.
“This is a direct result of the new discovery laws that became effective on January 1 of this year,” said District Attorney Bill Grady. “The overwhelming and unrealistic discovery demands that have been placed on all DAs by this new discovery legislation has made it virtually impossible to comply while at the same time administer justice in the same timely manner as we’ve done in the past,” Grady told Mid-Hudson News.
Under the new law, the DA is required to turn over all evidence to the accused within 15 days of arraignment. Chief Assistant District Attorney Matt Weishaupt told the committee that if evidence is not turned over in that time period, the case will be dismissed. Citing the need for additional manpower, Weishaupt told the lawmakers that not meeting the deadlines “will leave victims without recourse.”
Minority Leader Rebecca Edwards questioned Grady about the usefulness of diversion programs for people arrested on charges such as unlawful possession of marijuana and Grady praised the programs. “If cases aren’t diverted, they would become an added burden under the new discovery laws.”
The Democrats on the committee voted with their GOP colleagues for the resolution. Edwards explained the vote by her members by saying “It’s heartening to see the DA responding to the changes in the laws.” The Minority Leader added that the new law “does involve extra work in the DA’s office but that’s healthy – that’s how the criminal justice system is supposed to work.” Edwards said that many people in the past would have taken a plea deal but the new law encourages them to actually go to trial to protect their innocence.
Legislature Chairman Gregg Pulver said “the state’s new discovery requirement is, on both local police agencies and the District Attorney, an enormous burden and is a difficult threshold to meet in 15 short days. Because of these new discovery changes, in 2020 we have already seen 375 cases diverted from prosecution which are 375 instances of justice avoided and 375 cases where victims will not receive closure.”
The proposal for the new positions in Grady’s office will cost $648,877 for 2020 and Pulver said, “In typical New York State fashion they have required almost $650,000 in new local spending; which I am sure is only the beginning of our costs.”
County Executive Marcus Molinaro, tasked with developing the county’s annual budget, said, “Like most decisions in Albany these days, they act first, ask questions later and pass the bill to someone else. This shift in state-mandated spending will have long-lasting financial implications, and does make the work of providing public safety that much more difficult.”
New York State Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy was in Poughkeepsie Thursday night and weighed in the new law, calling it “An unmitigated disaster for the taxpayers of the State of New York.” Langworthy noted that Governor Cuomo and the legislature created these laws, including bail reform, “With no input from DAs or sheriffs” and called Cuomo’s new laws a way to garner “cheap political points in the name of social justice.”