FULTON COUNTY -- The Fulton County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Monday to become the first county government to adopt a resolution calling for state legislation to protect the identities of first-responders from new discovery requirements passed into law in 2019.
State Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, has proposed legislation that would protect the identities of first-responders from the recent criminal justice discovery reform.
“I want to thank the Fulton County Board of Supervisors for their leadership in being the first county in the state to unanimously say, we have an obligation as a government to protect all members of our community, including the people who safeguard the public and rescue citizens when danger arises,” Tedisco said.
The criminal justice reforms passed in 2019, in addition to eliminating cash bail for most offenses, also require prosecutors to share evidence with defendants faster than in the past, within 15 days of the defendant's arraignment.
One of the categories of evidence that must now be released is information about first-responders that may have been witnesses at the scene of an arrest.
Tedisco said the discovery law reform still protects the identities of law enforcement from the disclosure of name and contact information, but he argues the same protection should be extended to firefighters and EMS workers, who are often the first ones to provide life-saving services at emergency crime scenes.
"Violent criminals and vicious gangs like MS-13 are known to not only intimidate witnesses, but also to murder them and their loved ones," Tedisco said. "As we work to protect the safety and privacy of all witnesses and their families, we recognize that our emergency first-responders are always there to treat anyone in need of care, including at crime scenes."
Under the old system some prosecutors voluntarily released evidence relatively quickly to defendants and their attorneys — a process called discovery that defendants are constitutionally entitled — but others would often exercise their discretion to withhold information until just before trial, if a trial was held. Even under the old system, any first-responders being used as witnesses for the prosecution would always be disclosed to the defense.
Advocates for the reform law have argued that the legal defense of defendants is put at a disadvantage the longer prosecutors are able to withhold information, and the constitution requires information which could help a defendant's case be released.
The discovery reform requires that police reports, radio transmissions, body-worn and dash-cam video, and witness names and contact information related to the prosecution of a crime be released within 15 days.
Tedisco has proposed three separate pieces of legislation to reform the discovery law: one to protect the identities of first-responders in the same way as law enforcement; another to offer that protection to all witnesses; and a third that would repeal the bail and discovery reform altogether.
"This resolution was presented through the subcommittee system, through our Public Safety Committee, and there are some former first-responders on that committee, and I think they felt this was important that the identities of those people should not be disclosed," 4th Ward Gloversville Supervisor Charles Potter said.
Potter said he knows of no other county to pass a resolution backing Tedisco's proposed bill.
He said he feels Tedisco's proposed reform of the discovery law is common sense, and necessary to protect first-responder witnesses from reprisals from gangs.