Criminal Justice

New York Police Try To Pin Gang Witness's Death on Criminal Justice Reforms

The state’s new rules requiring information-sharing with defense lawyers are not to blame here.

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When Wilmer Maldonado Rodriguez, 36, was found dead Sunday in New Cassel, New York, police and prosecutors quickly went to work—not just on solving the crime, but on trying to blame recent reforms to how information is shared with criminal defendants.

Rodriguez had been attacked and stabbed, allegedly by members of gang MS-13, in 2018, and he had agreed to testify against his attackers. He died right as the cases move forward against three alleged assailants. If MS-13 was responsible, there are a number of ways it could have tracked down Rodriguez. But Nassau County police and prosecutors were quick to the lay the blame on the "discovery" laws that came into effect with the new year.

Discovery rules guide how evidence must be shared between police, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. Until this year, New York had notoriously secretive rules that allowed prosecutors to withhold evidence from the defense until the last possible moment. Prosecutors and police insisted this was necessary to protect witnesses from retaliation. Defense attorneys pointed out that this also prevented them from preparing for trial, and that it was used to force defendants to accept plea deals without knowing what evidence the state had against them. (For some comparisons to other states, scroll down to page 22 in this New York Civil Liberties Union analysis.)

The changes that New York just implemented put the state in line with most of the rest of the country, but you wouldn't know that from the screaming. Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder held a press conference Wednesday to blame the new discovery rules for Rodriguez's death. According to Newsday, Ryder said that harassment of Rodriguez began after the new discovery law forced prosecutors to give Rodriguez's name to defense attorneys.

But Ryder eventually had to acknowledge that there was no evidence linking the new rules to Rodriguez's death. Under the revised laws, prosecutors are still able to ask judges for protective orders to seal the identities of witnesses if releasing the information could put them in danger. Prosecutors had done so here, and a judge had kept the information sealed until December. Then the judge disclosed the names to defense attorneys, but under orders not to share the names until the trials began.

So the only way the new discovery rules could be responsible for Rodriguez's death would be if the defense attorneys violated the judge's orders and shared them with the defendants. That's quite an accusation to be making without evidence. And indeed, after saying we "don't know if the defense counsel turned that info over to the defendants," Ryder later in the day issued a statement acknowledging there was "no direct link between the death of Wilmer Maldonado Rodriguez and criminal justice reform." Attorneys representing two of the defendants have denied sharing the witnesses' names with their clients.

Even though there's no evidence at this point linking the murder to the reforms, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas still put out a statement subtly attacking the changes: "This case underscores the importance of safeguarding the identities of witnesses and victims of crime and our hearts are with Mr. Maldonado's family and friends as we grieve his loss."

To reiterate, New York's new discovery laws aren't taking case information-sharing into some wild, unheard-of space. It puts it in line with the vast majority of other states (including Texas and Florida, not exactly known for coddling defendants) by requiring that this information be disclosed to defense teams. The new rules should not be "controversial." They're the national norm. But police and prosecutors are using this unfortunate death to make it appear as though these rules are outrageously lax and a danger to the community. Don't fall for it.

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    1. You hear any laughing?

    2. You’re the punch line?

  1. OMG! The state of New York lies to the public!
    Damn; whodathunkit?

  2. Yes the rules are to blame. The rules required the name of the witness be released. And that told the gangs who the rat was and they promptly murdered him.

    Now, I think it is reasonable to argue that this is a really horrible price that we have to pay for due process. Sometimes freedom really isn’t free and you have to make choices between competing values.

    What is not reasonable is to blow smoke up everyone’s ass and pretend that the rules were not to blame for this happening. That is just lying. And lying doesn’t help your cause. Sadly, that is something that Shackford has never learned.

    1. No the judge could have withheld the name and did for a time. If the defense lawyers are found to have violated his order they should be disbarred.

      1. Are the defense attorneys prohibited from sharing the name with the defendant? I can see a protective order working to prevent them sharing the names with third parties, but wouldn’t barring the defendant from seeing the names interfere with the defendant’s right to assist in his own defense?

        And if the defendant gets to see the names ahead of time, and he’s not in jail because of those pesky bail reform rules Shackford is determined to defend, then how the bad guys got the names is pretty easy.

        1. Are the defense attorneys prohibited from sharing the name with the defendant?

          It’s kinda right there in the article:

          Then the judge disclosed the names to defense attorneys, but under orders not to share the names until the trials began.

          So the only way the new discovery rules could be responsible for Rodriguez’s death would be if the defense attorneys violated the judge’s orders and shared them with the defendants.

          1. That is indeed what the revised law says, at Article 245.70 of their Criminal Procedure law, per this cite (at page 235 of the lengthy document: https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/archive/fy20/exec/artvii/ppgg-artvii.pdf

            Things like witness IDs can be kept from the defendant, but not their counsel, before trial.

            Per the linked NY Times article, had the trial gone off on time, that might have sufficed to keep the identity of the witness secret. However, the article goes on to say:

            Patrick Ryder, the Nassau County police commissioner, echoed that sentiment at a news conference.

            “This man’s dead because we didn’t do enough,” Commissioner Ryder said, according to Newsday. He added, “This law is not helping us.”

            He said that the trial in the case was originally scheduled to begin on Jan. 6, but did not. After that, he said, a “pattern of intimidation” against Mr. Rodriguez began.

            “That protective order, because of the new changes in the law, was lifted,” he said. “We don’t know if the defense counsel turned that info over to the defendants.”

            He did later say that the new discovery orders had nothing to do with it. Is he an elected official?

            If the trial was to have started on January 6th, the protective order was lifted on that date, and the witness intimidation started after January 6th, that sounds a lot like someone talked. Of course, it may have been the witness himself doing something in the act of preparing to testify, that tipped off the bad guys that he was the one about to blab. Or the commissioner was mistaken about when the order was lifted, if it was at all. Awfully libelous to accuse a defendant’s attorney of violating a court order, with the result that a witness against that defendant ended up murdered.

      2. Lawyers have their own gang. Their leaders wear black robes.

    2. It’s amazing how Reason seems to go out of the way to find the absolute worst examples to make their case on

    3. FTA:
      Then the judge disclosed the names to defense attorneys, but under orders not to share the names until the trials began.

      So the only way the new discovery rules could be responsible for Rodriguez’s death would be if the defense attorneys violated the judge’s orders and shared them with the defendants. That’s quite an accusation to be making without evidence.

      1. Mob lawyers always have the highest ethics.

        And even if they did, putting them in position to be extorted by their murderous clients isn’t a great idea, either

    4. Any evidence showing that is the case would be nice before you state some is lying? Just as likely MS13 paid someone off at the courthouse to get that info. Or heard about it on the street. These international gangs have highly sophisticated networks at their disposal after all.

      1. So why wasn’t he killed before the judge disclosed the information? Timing is the thing.

        1. Seems like we should figure out who killed Wilmer Maldonado Rodriguez and why before we worry about the timing. While MS-13 are obvious suspects, Wilmer Maldonado Rodriguez was a homeless man who had already demonstrated a willingness to risk his life to protect others. It’s certainly not out of the question that his murder is unconnected to the trial.

    5. Didn’t RTFA, did you? The judge did not release the info until December, and then only to the defense attorneys. If you want to blame anybody, blame the actual killers. Do you really think they couldn’t make their own guesses as to who their enemies were? Do you really think the witness was such a superb human being that he never said anything?

      You jump to conclusions as if Trump were yelling “Frog!”

    6. re: “the rules are to blame”

      Based on the evidence available so far, I’m going to go with no.
      1. The old rule was practically unique to New York yet other jurisdictions, some with the same gang problems as NY, have not seen the problems described here.
      2. The new rule in this case allowed disclosure only to the attorneys. There is no evidence (yet) supporting the claim that the attorneys were the source of the release, either intentionally or inadvertently. Without that evidence, you cannot rebut the null hypothesis – that someone else was the source of the leak and this witness would have died anyway.

      If the lawyers were the source of the leak, then your argument about the price for due process holds up. However, the fact that no other jurisdiction sees this problem suggests that you and the police union are wrong – that what happened here was tragic but unrelated to the new policy.

    7. I don’t know if the rules are to blame or not. But it doesn’t matter for the reasons you state. Due process is fundamental and includes the right to have a properly informed defense.

      1. Libertarians for witness tampering and gangland murder!

        It’s hard to imagine why this movement isn’t just on a turbospeed path to a governing coalition.

    8. YOU WROTE:

      “The rules required the name of the witness be released. And that told the gangs who the rat was and they promptly murdered him. ”

      If your assumption was all that was needed to state things as facts with certainty, we could already “prove” that Prince Andrew Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton got together and murder Jeffrey Epstein. Are you willing to state that is a fact?
      The way you talk you should never be on a jury. Oh the story sounds about right, time to convict someone of murder.

  3. On the other side, NY was renowned for being very anti-defense with how they interpreted criminal discovery in the past. That was not in line with other states, and probably did need to be reformed.

    I doubt how NY ended up doing it is the right way, though.

  4. That’s quite an accusation to be making without evidence.

    I’d say the dead body counts as evidence. Reasoners seem to adopt left wing argument framing whenever they try to deny something.

    The changes that New York just implemented put the state in line with most of the rest of the country, but you wouldn’t know that from the screaming.

    Notice this assertion doesn’t actually conflict with the law leading to the man’s death. But we have to defend the shield right Reason? So when Reason claims the laws didn’t put the man at risk they apparently mean “more than other laws” which is an admission they did in fact put him at risk.

    1. It’s apparent someone blabbed, somewhere, that this guy was about to put some gang members in prison for awhile.

      The way this case shook out though, it doesn’t look like these new rules were to blame. All this new system does is make the State have to cough up the info earlier, albeit the State can place the information under seal and divulge only to defense counsel ahead of time. Even under the old system, the State of NY would have had to eventually given the witnesses names to the defendant’s attorneys. Have a continuance, which is what looks like happened here, and the same thing might have happened.

      If the defense counsel wants to put their law license or freedom at jeopardy, and start violating protective orders with their clients, there isn’t much a court can do to stop that. But most defense counsel don’t want to have their names on an indictment too. Or show cause to a state bar association why they shouldn’t be disbarred for willfully violating a court order.

      1. it doesn’t look like these new rules were to blame.

        Consider your own argument. Your own assertion is that you have no idea where the leak came from. But you’re somehow able to conclude your sacred cow isn’t the source?

        Wishcasting.

        1. You have no evidence to link the dead body to leaked information. Just an assertion.

          Nobody else can suggest an alternative without proof. So unless they’ve got proof to refute your lack of proof, you’re assertion without proof must be correct.

          My head hurts.

          1. Nobody else can suggest an alternative without proof.

            Now go back and review the arguments. Shackford is the one reaching a conclusion (that the new law is definitively not to blame) and you are supporting it. My disputing that does not mean I am concluding the opposite.

            1. Shackford is the one reaching a conclusion (that the new law is definitively not to blame) and you are supporting it.

              Yes. Based upon the court order that the defense counsel may not share the information with the defendant. If it wasn’t for that I would likely agree with you. The only thing separating this from any other case is that the defendant’s attorney was given information and ordered not to share it with their client. That’s it. Unless proven otherwise I must conclude that counsel didn’t share this with anyone. With the available information I can only conclude that the new law is not to blame.

              1. Based upon the court order that the defense counsel may not share the information with the defendant.

                So you’re fantasizing that a rule against something proves it didn’t happen.

                Unless proven otherwise I must conclude that counsel didn’t share this with anyone.

                What nonsense. Something not proven either way remains contested. Failure to prove one thing does not prove its inverse. But it’s revealing you must artificially limit your options to justify your conclusion.

                1. Yes, I limit my options based upon the available facts. Bad me.

                2. Something not proven either way remains contested.

                  No. Wrong. The burden of proof is upon the accuser. You don’t make accusations and then demand proof otherwise. Law doesn’t work like that. Work doesn’t work like that. Life doesn’t work like that.

                  Seriously.

                  Stop switching the burden of proof.

                  1. Suggesting that a conclusion can’t be reached based on the evidence is not switching the burden of proof. Your side presented the argument that the change in law had absolutely no connection to this murder. There is at least superficial circumstantial evidence that the opposite is true. Since no one is putting the new law on trial for the murder of the witness, there’s no burden of proof to even shift. Just you misusing terms you don’t understand as usual because your comprehension of topic more sophisticated than your choice of breakfast cereal begins and ends at wikipedia summaries.

                    You’re committing the “evidence of absence” fallacy btw. Hope that helps.

                    1. “Your side presented the argument that the change in law had absolutely no connection to this murder.”

                      No it didn’t.

                    2. And there’s this.

                      “Court officials said that in late December, in anticipation of the trial date and based on impending reform law, Gugerty issued a new order. It provided “for the disclosure of the protected information to defense counsel” but said that the defendants couldn’t see it until Jan. 6 “as that was the trial date,” court officials said.

                      Neither the prosecution nor the defense sought a revision to Gugerty’s order when the trial failed to go forward Jan. 6, according to court officials.”

                      This suggests that, even assuming the defense lawyers are lying and disclosed the identity of the victim, the fault lies with the prosecutors for failing to seek a modification to the order, not the law.

                    3. “This suggests that, even assuming the defense lawyers are lying and disclosed the identity of the victim, the fault lies with the prosecutors for failing to seek a modification to the order, not the law.”

                      This right here. If the leak happens because the witness’s ID was disclosed at the initial time of the trial, and the trial got continued, then there wouldn’t be any difference whether they were using the old discovery rules, which mandated disclosure right before trial, or the new ones. If there wouldn’t be a difference in outcomes, the new rules can’t be responsible for this.

                      Thanks for explaining it much more succinctly than me, jph12.

                    4. Rip Torn. Wrong.
                      If your argument in this case were correct then if the cops got up and said that the fact the judge had evidence is the problem and implied the judge had the witness murdered. And reason wrote an article saying that was a ridiculous charge and had zero evidence so throw the whole propaganda conference out the window. IT would be on reason to prove the judge did not order the witness killed before they could say “no, giving the judge the witness name did not kill the witness”.
                      Is that your position?

                  2. No. Wrong. The burden of proof is upon the accuser.

                    Now you’re pretending this is criminal law. The conventions we use to protect civil rights do not reflect reality. Imagine a science experiment where failure to prove the null hypothesis is considered to prove its inverse. Absurd.

                    Stop digging.

                3. Marshal your reasoning would mean that we can conclude the judge handed the data directly to M13 in order to have the guy murdered. It requires the exact same amount of assumptions based on the exact same available evidence.

    2. I’d say the dead body counts as evidence.

      You think an international gang like that doesn’t have other sources of information?

      1. You think an international gang like that doesn’t have other sources of information?

        That’s what you think proof is? The existence of any potential alternative proves your sacred cow is innocent?

        1. Where’s your proof? Other than “I don’t need proof because nanny nanny boo boo where’s your proof you have none I’m right nyaaaaa!” Which is what your comments amount to.

        2. You are engaging in a textbook ‘Switching the Burden of Proof” fallacious argument.

          1. No, you’re just begging the question and then throwing a juvenile temper tantrum and appealing to terms you don’t understand.

            You’re also engaging in a textbook “evidence of absence” fallacious argument.

            1. I’m not asserting anything. I’m only saying that you can’t blame it on the law anymore than you can blame it on a penguin. You want to blame it on something…. prove it.

    3. They adopt leftist framing in all arguments. No evidence is a burden here but something to ignore for the impeachment farce specifying corrupt motives.

      I’m coming to think they’ve adopted the Marxist claim of a governmentless end state as libertopia in form and path.

      1. They may also have adopted the anarcho-capitalist claim of a governmentless libertopia. Just because Marxists believe a thing doesn’t mean anyone believing similar things is a Marxist.

        1. And hey wouldn’t you know it, by sheer coincidence every single anarchist movement in the history of the world since the term was coined has been Marxist. Weird huh?

        2. “Just because you subscribe to the teachings of Marx doesn’t mean you’re a Marxist.”

          ”””””Reason”””””

    4. No, I think being a witness against gangsters is what put the witness at risk.
      For all we know the murder had nothing to do with the disclosure. It could be a crooked cop leaking info about the witness, for example.
      It could be because of the new rule. But we have no idea.

      1. But we have no idea.

        And yet the entire premise of the article from the headline to the closing is premised on the fact that we know with absolute certainty that the new rule is not implicated in this series of events at all. It’s almost like that’s the entire point of the fucking comment to which you’re replying and you’re desperately hoping nobody notices your high school freshman level couldn’t-make-the-debate-squad sophistry.

        1. “And yet the entire premise of the article from the headline to the closing is premised on the fact that we know with absolute certainty that the new rule is not implicated in this series of events at all.”

          No it isn’t. While there are multiple premises for the article, that’s not one of them. Not even the headline supports your claim, and headlines frequently distort and overstate the article.

          One premise of the article is that is was wrong for police and prosecutors to blame the new discovery rules when there is no solid evidence establishing a link. The article makes that plain by explaining that “Ryder eventually had to acknowledge that there was no evidence linking the new rules to Rodriguez’s death.” It’s not a good look when you blame something for something bad happening, then have to admit you don’t have anything backing your allegation.

          Another premise of the article is that it is wrong for the police and prosecutors to pretend that the new discovery rules are a dangerous expansion into the unknown instead of the norm throughout the country. The article make that even plainer by explaining that “police and prosecutors are using this unfortunate death to make it appear as though these rules are outrageously lax and a danger to the community” and asking that you “[d]on’t fall for it.”

          You, unfortunately, fell for it.

  5. Q) DID THIS LAW CREATE A CIRCUMSTANCE IN WHICH A SNITCH GOT MORE THAN STITCHES?

    A) Duh uh yeah?

    Q) IS THIS PROOF THAT THE LAW CAUSED THIS TO HAPPEN?

    A) Well, I mean, there’s like no evidence. How did the bad guys learn the identity of the snitch? The attorney never said shit.

    Q) IT WAS THE LAW IT WAS THE LAW IT WAS THE LAW

    1. It’s like arguing with the Dalek.

    2. The only reasonable answer to Q1 is we have no clue.
      Which removes any ability to infer implications from the answer..

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