Criminal Justice Reforms Will Have Impact On DA’s Office

MAYVILLE — New criminal justice reforms passed by the state government earlier this year will necessitate more employees in the Chautauqua County District Attorney’s office next year.

On Wednesday, Patrick Swanson, Chautauqua County district attorney, discussed the new reforms with the Chautauqua County Legislature Public Safety Committee. He said there have been bail, discovery and speedy trial changes that will impact his office significantly starting next year.

Swanson said because of the new bail reform there will basically be no such thing in the county next year. He said currently 85% to 90% of the cases the county DA’s office handles will not longer have bail set. He said the alleged criminal will be given either an appearance ticket or will be arraigned and released. He added also it will no longer matter what a person’s prior record is when it comes to whether bail is set. He said it will just be based on the alleged crime.

The changes to discovery will necessitate the hiring of at least three more employees, Swanson said. He said because of the new reform, discovery will now be turned over to the defense within 15 days instead of possibly months later, depending on the case. He added it will be a strain on his office to collect all the information and document it within 15 days.

“It’s a mountain of information to comply in a short amount of time,” he said.

Swanson said the new reform will mean his office will have to do discovery on every single case instead of about a third. Also, every charge will involve discovery, which includes traffic tickets. He said the county has about 12,000 traffic tickets a year that will now have discovery done on each one.

What the prosecutor has to give to the defense in discovery has also changed. He said the biggest change is the listing of witnesses to a crime to be given in the discovery within 15 days. For example, in the past Swanson has been able to reach a plea deal with an alleged criminal’s attorney without the case going to trial. In this case the identity of a witness or witnesses never had to be revealed. He added now that will no longer be the case, which will make it more difficult for him to convince a witness to possibly testify.

“It’s very, very defendant friendly,” Swanson said about the reforms.

Swanson said he will try to accommodate the new laws, but it will take time. He said he will start testing how to adapt the new criminal justice reforms with cases he handles with the Westfield Police Department. He added the cost for the probation department will increase as well.

“It’s depressing every time I talk about it,” he said.

Swanson told the committee he will produce a more detailed plan on how to handle the new reforms next year when he discusses his 2020 budget with the committee in the fall.