Things must be bad in the Empire State if Democrat politicians are talking up their commitment to public safety. “There is no greater obligation than ensuring every New Yorker can live in safety, and that has always been my number one priority,” says New York State Governor and gun control champion Kathy Hochul, adding that “the era” of defunding the police “is over.”
While Gov. Hochul and like-minded politicians look for innovative ways to disarm innocent citizens and flout the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in NYSRPA v. Bruen, news of horrifying crimes in New York City continue to dominate headlines.
One case is the Fox News weatherman who says he is “lucky to be alive” after being badly beaten by a gang of youths on a New York City subway train. The man, Adam Klotz, intervened after seeing a gang of around seven teenagers harass an elderly passenger. One of the gang lit a joint, then placed the lighter against the passenger’s hair. “[I]t blew up like a matchbook. His entire head was on fire… And they decided, ‘Alright, he’s not gonna get it, then you’re going to get it,’ and boy did they give it to me.” Three of the alleged attackers, aged between 15 and 17 years old, were apprehended and arrested, although they were released without charges. Police subsequently posted a photo of a fourth suspect and, according to one source, “could still lodge charges against the rowdy crew.”
Klotz called on New York City Mayor Eric Adams “to do something more long-term [so] that this won’t happen to somebody else… I want someone to be held responsible, but really what I want is some sort of change.”
Change may be coming, but it’s not the kind of change that will lift the hearts of beleaguered New Yorkers. A recent report by the Manhattan Institute suggests that the criminal justice system in the Big Apple and the state more generally is inching towards “catastrophic” on the meter.
The January 19th report, Destroyed by Discovery: How New York State’s Discovery Law Destabilizes the Criminal Justice System, analyzes the impact of new criminal procedure rules that went into effect in January 2020. Under these progressive discovery rules (Article 245 of that state’s Criminal Procedure Law), prosecutors “now have an enumerated list of automatically discoverable material to be collected regardless of whether it is actively requested by the defense or the likelihood that a case will go to trial.” Further, they must collect and share almost all material related to a criminal case with a defendant “as soon as practicable” after arraignment, but no later than 20 days (if the defendant is in custody) and otherwise, within 35 days. Prosecutors have been left scrambling to compile, review and redact discovery materials, completely and within the allotted time.
The effect of the rules is amplified by the state’s “speedy trial” law, pursuant to which prosecutors have to be ready to proceed to trial on a case by a legislated deadline, depending on the nature of the charges. For a defendant accused of one or more offenses, including at least one felony, the deadline is within six months of commencing the criminal action. Noncompliance on the part of the prosecution results in dismissal of the charges.
According to the report, the discovery burden has been “so time-consuming that [assistant district attorneys] were running out their entire speedy-trial time windows in the process,” and cases that would otherwise be prosecuted to trial are getting dismissed. In the five counties of New York City, for instance, dismissals of criminal cases “rose from 44% of dispositions in 2019 to 69% in 2021;” for misdemeanor dispositions “which were deprioritized relative to felonies…, dismissals rose from 49% in 2019 to a whopping 82% in 2021.” Essentially, the new rules are a heavy finger on the scale that favors defendants, with the odds being pretty good that offenders will walk at the end of the day.
The discovery rules have also had a chilling effect on arrests due to reduced witness cooperation with police. Compliance with the new rules involves disclosure of witness statements recorded during investigations (previously, “witness information did not need to be turned over to the defense until the commencement of trial”). This disclosure (and new revolving door bail reform laws where defendants are unlikely to be detained in pretrial custody) undermine the willingness of citizens to get involved when their own personal safety may be jeopardized by a vengeful offender – another crime to get dismissed or downgraded. One possible “proxy measure” of witness reluctance, according to the report, is the change in arrest numbers. In New York City, “adult felony arrests fell by 14% between 2019 and 2021, even while felony crimes shot up astronomically. The rise was especially pronounced in categories where witnesses are most often pivotal.”
The report notes other, far-reaching impacts of the discovery statute in the context of the progressive de-policing and non-prosecution policies of the last few years. The failure to prosecute misdemeanors like shoplifting, petty theft, fare evasion, trespass and public nuisances means communities “are losing access to pharmacies and other businesses that cannot withstand the losses,” are suffering increased public transit crime, and lose the opportunity to prevent more serious crimes. (“There is almost always a misdemeanor trail before a homicide.”) The report points to a reported 70% of serious crashes in New York City that “now involve drivers with suspended licenses or who are drunk and/or speeding—a crime for which there are no longer consistent consequences or deterrence.”
In short, as the report concludes, New York State’s “discovery ‘reform’ has had a deeply destabilizing effect on the New York criminal justice system—an effect that, without hyperbole, is creating a staffing and functioning crisis in prosecutors’ offices [and]… diverting limited police resources to searching for, collecting, reviewing, and producing materials for prosecutors, instead of patrolling streets and subways.”
Unfortunately, anti-gun Mayor Adams has already gone on the record as being adamantly opposed to the possibility that public safety would benefit by law-abiding citizens being armed: “[W]hen you look at people who state that you’re safer because a civilian or an innocent person is carrying a gun, it just is not true.”
Some New York City merchants have recruited their own private security team to cope with the crime and constant theft. These unarmed “ambassadors” are expected to deter would-be criminals and flag suspicious activity along a commercial corridor in the Bronx. A spokesperson for the merchants explains the no-win situation the retailers find themselves in. “The justice system is just not cooperating, and it’s getting to a point where you either have to padlock every item that has to be stolen, or you have to fight back. And if you fight back you take the risk of going to jail for protecting your property.”
Desperate residents of this real-life Gotham, the victims of runaway progressivism, have few options apart from beaming up a bat signal. In the meantime, Democrat politicians will almost certainly use the rampant crime and violence to justify even more restrictions on the possession and use of firearms by responsible citizens.