Repeal the Blindfold Law

September 5, 2017

In partnership with the Coalition to Repeal the Blindfold Law, the Roosevelt Network is working to prevent wrongful convictions and make criminal trials fairer in New York.

New York currently has one of the most restrictive criminal discovery provisions in the country. This is the statute which governs the process of by which both sides of a criminal case exchange the evidence they have in a case. New York’s procedural law, which is sometimes known as the “Blindfold Law” does not require the prosecution to turnover crucial evidence — including police reports and witness lists – and doesn’t mandate the turnover of required evidence until immediately before a trial, or for certain evidence, during trial. This creates an environment of “trial by ambush” where the defense does not get the time it needs to properly investigate a case and craft an effective defense. It also does not lay out exact standards for what material should be disclosed, leaving discovery obligations to the prosecutor’s discretion.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, the state has the second-highest number of exonerations in the country, with 244 of America’s 2,066 exonerations since 1989. But this does not represent the entirety of the wrongful conviction problem, as it is likely that most go unidentified because of the high amount of resources required to officially exonerate a convicted person, and the possibility of false guilty pleas, which are rarely investigated. The Blindfold Law directly contributes to these cases by withholding the information that defense lawyers need to construct an effective defense. Currently, discovery requires the use of various pretrial motions, which cause lengthy pretrial delays and increase court costs.By handicapping the defense, the Blindfold Law gives the prosecution a massive advantage. Repealing the Blindfold Law would make case processing more efficient and result in a fairer, faster and more equitable justice system in the process.

Therefore we are working to promote the bill put forward by the New York State Bar Association to reform discovery procedures. This bill gives the defense greater access to evidence and creates a definite timeline for turnover, ending the “trial by ambush” practice and making trials more reliable and fair.

Want to learn more about the Discovery Reform? Check out these articles: PoliticoCity Limits, and NY Times.

The Coalition to Repeal the Blindfold Law includes: The Legal Aid SocietyThe Innocence ProjectDiscovery for JusticeNew York County Defender ServicesThe Bronx DefendersBrooklyn Defender Services, and Katal Center for Health, Equity and Justice.