The Manhattan district attorney’s office is trying to get the New York Police Department to grant him electronic access to disciplinary records of officers and investigative reports that prosecutors say they need to catch bad arrests earlier in criminal proceedings, The New York Times reports.
Prosecutors want an amount of access to police records that would fundamentally change how information is exchanged between the police and prosecutors in New York, upending decades of practice and altering the traditional roles of each institution, according to The New York Times.
The district attorney’s efforts to get information from officers is the latest attempt to break through the wall of secrecy surrounding police discipline in the city. Eric Garner’s fatal chokehold at the hands of police during a July 2014 confrontation on Staten Island hastened the desire for records to be made public.
This time around, the pressure isn’t coming from the usual suspects like from civil libertarians filing lawsuits, or the news media writing editorials, but from Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the most prominent district attorney in the state, The New York Times reports.
Public defenders tried making the case over the years that the earlier prosecutors show evidence to the defense, including evidence about the credibility of police officers and witnesses, the easier it is to weed out bad cases and prevent wrongful prosecutions, The New York Times reports, adding that strong cases persuade defendants to plead guilty, while weak ones fall apart before the accused has spent a long time in jail, they contend.
Many reform-minded prosecutors want evidence to be turned over to the defense right away, except for cases when it endangers a witness.
The Brooklyn district attorney’s office moved an open-file discovery system years ago, according to The New York Times. Vance, whose Manhattan office was once notorious among defense lawyers for waiting until the last moment to disclose evidence, started handing it over at arraignment in nonviolent cases when there are no civilian witnesses.
Vance’s office is arguing that the same principle should apply here to the flow of evidence from the police to prosecutors.
Those records are needed “to make early assessments of witness credibility, explore weaknesses in a potential case and exonerate individuals who may have been mistakenly accused,” Vance’s general counsel, Carey R. Dunne, wrote in a letter to the police in May and BuzzFeed reported in June.
“We are saying to the police, ‘You have a lot of information that could bear upon the credibility of witnesses, both civilian and police, and before we take away a person’s liberty based on that information, we would like to have everything,’” Mr. Vance’s chief assistant, Karen Friedman Agnifilo, said. She said her office had uncovered at least 43 cases in Manhattan this year in which the police arrested the wrong person.
By: Bob Francesa
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