And then there were nine? New York inches toward discovery reform

Virginia is one of 10 states that maintain "closed discovery" rules in criminal matters, meaning that a defendant has no right to see police reports from his own case, receive evidence collected by the government (unless a prosecutor -- the person trying to lock him up -- deems it helpful to the defense) or learn of the witnesses who will testify against him at trial. If this sounds like the Inquisition, or a Kafka novel, I assure you it's not, although the results are often strikingly similar. Innocent people are convicted, sent to prison, and even condemned to death, all because of arcane rules that prevent them from accessing information necessary to prepare a defense.

As it happens, the field of closed discovery states might be narrowing soon. The Marshall Project, in conjunction with the New York Times, today published a story and research on proposed changes to discovery rules in the State of New York, including examples of false convictions obtained, and the breathtakingly shallow (if not mystical) rationale advanced by reform opponents. The story can be found here:

Defendants Kept in the Dark About Evidence, Until It's Too Late (New York Times) (Aug. 7, 2017) 

UNDISCOVERED: Defendants say evidence laws force them to take pleas while "blindfolded" (The Marshall Project) (Aug. 7, 2017). 

The examples provided in the article could easily have been culled Virginia's court system, and very well might have been more explosive, given the lack of true open discovery policies in many of Virginia's larger jurisdictions.

Either way, New York appears poised to leave Virginia and the other eight holdouts behind. Hopefully by this time next year, Virginia reform advocates will have earned a newspaper article about rules changes of our own.

Brad Haywood