Axon? That’s the company formerly known as Taser International, for good reason. As the name Taser got dirtied up some, just because the non-lethal weapon morphed into less-than-lethal and bodies inexplicably piled up due to excited delirium, Taser changed its name and branched out into cameras for cops, and Axon was born.
But what do they have to do with New York’s new Criminal Procedure Law Section 245?
The state of New York recently passed new discovery laws that will take effect on January 1, 2020, impacting the current process of digital evidence disclosure. Article 245, which is part of a state-wide initiative focused on criminal justice reform, will require prosecutors to provide initial discovery within 15 days of arraignment. In turn, law enforcement agencies are required to proactively submit all forms of digital evidence as soon as possible. Proponents of the law hope it will expedite case processing periods and shorten jail stays for defendants detained before trial. Some law enforcement agencies are expressing concern about the article’s impact on their workloads and processes . . ..
From the outside, the demand is to get it done, whatever it takes to make it happen. Prosecutors complain that the timing demands are too onerous and require them to work into the night to compile and copy discovery for the defense. Boo hoo, the defense replies, slightly more concerned about the defendant in lockup than the ADA who misses happy hour at Forlinis.
But there’s another secret side to all this that escapes view. The cops have to cooperate. They have to complete reports and tun them over to prosecutors before they can turn them over to the defense. But there’s more, because we also have video. And you know who controls video for the cops, a contractor to the cause if you will?
Q: How will the changes from 245 impact agencies?
Mike Ranalli: I’m hearing that agencies may create dedicated discovery units to manage these changes, which could have a taxpayer impact. With smaller agencies, the burden to manage, pack and share data will likely fall on the officer.
Alex Wilson: It will throw a wrench into their current processes, and law enforcement agencies might be triaging cases following the implementation of this law. The scope of the statute is wide-ranging—it applies to every type of digital evidence and to almost every type of case you can conceive of: felonies, misdemeanors, violations, and simplified information cases. This means that all digital evidence from a given case would have to be submitted within 15 days. Imagine the volume of cases generated on a given day by a given agency — it becomes a daunting task for an agency to comply with the new discovery rules.
If the net result is “triaging cases,” it’s not exactly an outcome that will bring a tear to a defense lawyer’s eye. But this is Axon, and they’re in the business of selling cameras to cops.
Q: What are the impacts of non-compliance with the timeline required by 245 on agencies?
Mike Ranalli: If there are any delays to the timelines specified in the statute that aren’t otherwise approved by a judge, the impact would depend on the circumstances of the delay and how relevant the material was to the case. It is an area that will have to be developed in new case law pertaining to the new provisions.
Alex Wilson: The statute does not lay out specific penalties, but I would speculate that it will depend on the severity of non-compliance. If the evidence that is failed to be turned over is relevant but not contributing towards the guilt or innocence of the individual, it could result in an admonishment from the court. If the failure to turn over the material is deliberate, or if itself is very dispositive as to guilt or innocence, the court has to make the decision if it calls for the dismissal of the case. The biggest penalty would be a miscarriage of justice; that is, a case is dismissed because law enforcement and the DA could not comply with the statute. In the case of sheriffs, who are elected officials, if a case is dropped due to the strict timelines, the public may not care why it happened and it could unfortunately impact re-election.
It’s hard to know whether this is the sort of admonition that concerns or relieves cops, that if they don’t manage to turn over video to prosecutors timely, it’s not as if their pension is at risk. But then, what can Axon do to make their job “easier”?
Alex Wilson: The statute directs that district attorneys must maintain an open line of communication with law enforcement agencies. There are talks of centralized repositories for evidence where everything gets dumped into a central server with an identifying code or case number. This way, law enforcement has satisfied its obligation to make it available to the district attorney, who can then turn it over to the relevant defense counsel. This material would need to be scrutinized very carefully before being made available to the defense counsel, with attention to the confidentiality of witnesses by redacting identifying or personal information of non-parties, and chain of custody, which is paramount to the conclusion of prosecution.
Did you catch that? “Redacting”? Why yes, one of the most important features of Axon managing cop video is that it provides the ability to “redact” video.
Use the Redaction Studio in Axon Evidence to automate parts of the redaction process like skin blur or objection tracking. Or let our AI-based Redaction Assistant take the lead on automatically detecting the MDT screens, faces and license plates in the footage. With these intuitive tools we’ve seen agencies cut their redactions times in half.
Quick, easy, intuitive and if you get the video on time, redacted. There are more moving parts to this process than people realize, each of which is prioritized by whoever is responsible for doing that aspect of the job. And Axon is here to help. I thought you should know.