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State Budget Big On Policy, Light On Finances

Prosecutors and police departments throughout the state could receive state assistance in meeting more the state’s more stringent criminal discovery laws.

Voting was to begin late Tuesday night on the first of New York’s budget bills, the state’s debt service bill. Two other bills were discussed by the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee before full Assembly discussion on the debt service bill.

One of those bills, A.9505B/S.7505B, includes creation of the Criminal Justice Discovery Compensation Fund, which would be established in joint custody of the state Comptroller’s Office and Taxation and Finance commissioner’s offices and be paid for with $40 million secured by payments associated with deferred prosecution agreements held on deposit with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. Deferred prosecution agreements are entered into by a prosecutor and a defendant, usually a corporation, that allow the defendant to avoid prosecution by paying fines and forfeitures, agreeing to conditions that include cooperation with the government, starting compliance programs and admitting wrongdoing. The $40 million will be used to implement discovery reform including digital evidence transmission technology, administrative support, computers, hardware and operating software, data connectivity, development of training materials, staff training, overtime costs, preparing for court and pretrial services. Counties, cities, law enforcement and prosecutors within town and villages are all eligible for a portion of the money.

Prosecutors and police departments throughout the state have been critical of the 2019 criminal justice reforms for several reasons including the 15-day discovery requirement, which requires prosecutors provide criminal defense lawyers with all evidence it has access to within 15 days of a person’s arraignment. That time frame can be extended by another 30 days if there is a large volume of material or if prosecutors don’t have the material in their possession after 15 days. There have been problems locally compiling all of the evidence covered under the discovery requirement, with Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson asking for additional staff during last year’s county budget process to meet the demands being placed on his office as well as asking state legislators during public hearings for additional state money.

A.99105B/S.7505B also includes the Safe Homes and Families Act would allow a police officer responding to a family offense to take temporary custody of any firearm, rifle, electronic dart gun, electronic stun gun, disguised gun, imitation weapon, shotgun, black powder rifle, black powder shotgun or muzzle-loading firearm that is in plain sight or discovered as part of a consensual or lawful search.

The police officer would also take the person’s license to carry, possess, repair or dispose of the weapon. Weapons would be returned no less than 48 hours after the weapons are seized as long as there is no order of protection issued, a pending criminal charge or conviction that would prohibit the person from owning a gun or have a firearm license. If a person refuses to surrender a firearm, the court could order the firearm seized. If the person who was charged as part of the family offense investigation is not the legal owner of the firearm that were seized, the weapon would be returned.

The bill also determines if certain misdemeanor crimes are serious offenses under the penal law. Some of the misdemeanor crimes that would be considered serious offenses include illegally using, carrying or possessing a pistol or other dangerous weapon; possession of burglar’s tools; third-degree criminal possession of stolen property; third-degree escape; fraudulent accosting; endangering the welfare of a child; third-degree obscenity; issuing abortional articles; permitting prostitution; third-degree promoting prostitution; fourth-degree stalking; third-degree stalking; sexual misconduct; forcible touching; second- and third-degree sexual abuse; seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance; criminally possessing a hypodermic instrument; second-degree criminally using drug paraphernalia; second-degree criminal possession of methamphetamine manufacturing material; and certain hate crimes.

Other offenses that should be considered serious offenses include where the defendant and the person against whom the offense was committed were members of the same family or household; third-degree assault, second- and third-degree menacing; criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation; second-degree unlawful imprisonment; third-degree coercion ; third-degree criminal tampering; second-degree criminal contempt; first-degree harassment; second-degree aggravated harassment; second- and third-degree criminal trespass; fifth-degree arson; or attempt to commit any of those offenses listed. The state’s Executive Law will also be amended to maintain a list of offenses in other states and territories of the United States that includes all of the essential elements of a serious offense.

Budget bills were being debated after The Post-Journal’s press deadline.

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