Prompted by a tweet from Scott Greenfield this morning, we read a short editorial the New York Times did a couple of days ago, arguing that federal and state prosecutors should adopt open-file discovery policies, in order to limit Brady violations and promote justice. We’d missed it the first time...
There’s a great post today on the New York Criminal Defense blog, explaining the history and proper use of the Bill of Particulars in NY criminal practice. Our readers are encouraged to check it out here.
This has long been a pet peeve of ours. An astounding number of prosecutors just don’t get the concept of a Bill of Particulars in this state. And far too few defense attorneys and judges hold the People to their obligations here.
Which is bizarre, because it’s really quite simple. All the Bill needs to do is specify what facts the People intend to prove which make out the elements of the crimes charged in the indictment, without explaining how the People intend to prove those facts.
For example, a buy-and-bust with stash and cash might have a Bill that states, at such-and-such time and place, “the defendant handed to an undercover police officer two bags containing crack cocaine in exchange for money. Twenty-four bags containing crack cocaine were recovered from the ground where the defendant threw them.” That’s all that’s needed. No mention is required of how the People will prove the stuff is crack, or anything about the money that was recovered, or anything else.
And yet prosecutors keep doing it wrong. We routinely get Bills of Particular that contain nothing more than bare conclusions of law, such as “the defendant sold crack cocaine to a police officer and possessed crack cocaine with the intent to sell it.” Or worse than that, just a recitation of the time, date and location, and an assurance that the indictment contains all the information that is needed.
Failure to provide a sufficient Bill renders the indictment defective. We’re amazed that more defense counsel don’t pursue this aggressively, and educate their judges who may be a little complacent given the lack of rigor by many attorneys.
Once again, we highly recommend this article to our readers. It was written, by the way, by Jill Paperno of the Monroe County Public Defender’s office, so kudos to Jill.