By Francesca Trianni
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two New York-area prosecutors said on Thursday they would no longer consider unused condoms seized from suspected prostitutes and sex traffickers as evidence, saying the public health benefit of making condoms available trumped their value in the courtroom.
"We need to put public health above the very little value of using condoms for prosecuting prostitution and trafficking," said Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice.
Rice and Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, who oversees prosecutions in the most populous of New York City's five boroughs, follow San Francisco prosecutors in ceasing to submit condoms as evidence.
Although carrying condoms is legal in New York, police have treated them as evidence of probable cause when making arrests in prostitution cases.
But condoms are rarely admitted as evidence in criminal court because most prostitution-related offenses end with guilty pleas to lesser charges.
Public health advocates say that treating condoms as evidence discourages prostitutes from carrying them and could accelerate the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS.
"A talented prosecutor can find ways to prosecute a case without using this piece of evidence that constitutes a public health risk," said Marc Fliender, who heads the Brooklyn major narcotics investigations bureau.
The move occurred as New York state lawmakers prepare to vote on a bill that would prevent unused condoms from being introduced as evidence in any criminal case, including sex trafficking.
Supporters of the measure said they hope the legislation will be voted on before the closing of the New York State Assembly session in two weeks. Previous attempts to pass similar bills have failed.
Hynes last week sent a letter to New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly asking the department to stop collecting condoms in Brooklyn prostitution cases, though police have defended the tactic.
Condoms have been confiscated by police and used as evidence by prosecutors in cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington.
(Reporting by Francesca Trianni; Editing by Scott Malone and Xavier Briand)