EJ Smyth & Company - March 2020

See Something, Say Something … or Don’t (631) 271-7500 EJSmythco.com March 2020

The recent changes to the criminal justice law in New York have created some very unusual circumstances. Aside from the ongoing jailbreaks from our county jails, district attorneys are now required to reveal the identity and contact information of all witnesses directly to the defendant within 15 days of indictment. This disclosure requirement applies to undercover cops and civilian informants, as well. This may sound fair at first, but it is a radical departure from decades of criminal procedure, and the potential consequences are devastating. You can read the new law yourself by looking up the New York State Criminal Procedure Law §245. confidential, unless the witness testifies at trial. There is a common sense reason for this: A defendant facing decades in prison would have an overwhelming temptation to influence the testimonies of witnesses or prevent them altogether. Recently in Nassau County, a witness who was scheduled to testify against two MS-13 gang members was beaten to death by the defendants. His murder occurred just two days after his identity was revealed to the defendants. Politicians are claiming that this is simply a coincidence and had nothing to do with the new witness disclosure laws. Whether this is true or not, I’m worried we’ll see more incidents like this occurring because of this flawed new law. Some proponents of this new law call it “fear-mongering,” but this ignores the reality that the new law unnecessarily puts the public at foreseeable risk. In the past, the names and contact information of witnesses remained

their names and contact information turned over to defendants if they are under the district attorney’s direction or control or are named in the DA’s file. Recruiting volunteers to serve as first responders is difficult enough. This new law makes it even more difficult for department chiefs to recruit new members. The unintended consequence may be the requirement to go to paid firefighters. This would be enormously expensive for taxpayers and could lead to the disappearance of volunteer firefighters, who have been great examples of public service and sources of tremendous community pride.

However, people going about their lives will think twice if they know the potential consequences of this new law. This leads to serious moral questions that people can only answer for themselves. Do you report a drunk driver? Do you report suspected child abuse in your neighborhood? How do you advise your teenager who comes home from a party and tells you they witnessed a sexual assault? If you are the victim of a crime, will witnesses come forward? This law applies to town code violations, as well. You can no longer anonymously report noise complaints or illegal apartments without your name being revealed. First responders, including volunteer firefighters and EMTs who respond to the scene of a crime, arson, domestic violence call, or DWI accident are all fact witnesses. They may have

There is no good explanation for what is going on in New York State right now.

So, what does it mean for you? If you witness a crime, reporting it is the right thing to do.

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