Now that New York has adopted the radical notion that an accused should know something about the accusations before the morning of trial, prosecutors have been scrambling to get around the new discovery laws. One of which is that the defense is entitled to “adequate contact information” for the People’s witnesses.
Taking a tip from the MTA, which invites you to “download the free app” to find out there are no trains for the rest of the night, the DA’s have concocted an app called WitCom, a portal that defense lawyers are “required” to use if they want to talk to prosecution witnesses.
When a defense lawyer objected, a Brooklyn judge said to give it a try. Result? Yes, a witness did call back through WitCom. But only because the prosecutor made her do it. In another instance, the prosecutor called up the witness’s lawyer three times, demanding that the client return the WitCall.
Look how well WitCom works! crowed the People. The witnesses responded!
Yeah, said the judge, as long as the prosecutor leans on them hard enough. Making the defense use WitCom “is contrary to the plain meaning of the statute which calls for the People to provide contact information. WitCom. . . stands for a lack of information.” (That’s such a good line, we almost forgive the judge for writing sentences like “when a prosecutor registers their witnesses,” or “a witness may respond when they may otherwise have blocked the call.” He needs to dust off their Strunk & White).
“To argue that the court should accept the WitCom app because millions of people use Uber, Lyft, Grubhub, etc., is ludicrous,” sputtered the judge. “Those apps are voluntarily downloaded as a first-world convenience for the consumer. They are in no way akin to forcing an adversarial party to litigation to use an app.”
The People were ordered to cough up “an active and verified email address and cell phone number for their witnesses.”
“Are you sure it was my client who had the gun?”