I came across an interesting article in the Washington Post today about the government’s failure to turn over evidence in the case against the late senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Prosecutors failed to turn over evidence that could have helped the former senator refute corruption charges. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Mr. Stevens’s state of Alaska, has introduced a reform bill that would mandate that prosecutors turn over all evidence in their possession that may “reasonably appear to be favorable to the defendant,” whether or not it is deemed material to the case. The bill allows prosecutors to seek judicial approval to withhold information that may harm national security or endanger victims or witnesses.
In Maryland, the prosecutor is required to turn over exculpatory evidence to the Defendant and their attorney. Exculpatory evidence is evidence that is favorable to the defendant in a criminal trial, which clears or tends to clear the defendant of guilt. The leading case defining what evidence the prosecutor must turn over actually came from Maryland.
Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the prosecution had withheld from the criminal defendant certain evidence. The defendant challenged his conviction, arguing it had been contrary to the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Maryland prosecuted Brady and a companion, Boblit, for murder. Brady admitted being involved in the murder, but claimed Boblit had done the actual killing. The prosecution had withheld a written statement by Boblit confessing that he had committed the act of killing by himself. The Maryland Court of Appeals had affirmed the conviction and remanded the case for a retrial only on the question of punishment.
A defendant’s request for “Brady disclosure” refers to the holding of the Brady case, and the numerous state and federal cases that interpret its requirement that the prosecution disclose material exculpatory evidence to the defense. Exculpatory evidence is “material” if “there is a reasonable probability that his conviction or sentence would have been different had these materials been disclosed.” Brady evidence includes statements of witnesses or physical evidence that conflicts with the prosecution’s witnesses, and evidence that could allow the defense to impeach the credibility of a prosecution witness.
We at the Greenberg Law Office know how difficult criminal cases can be and realize that you need an experienced lawyer to help ensure that you or your loved one gets a fair trial. If you are arrested for a criminal case, call us immediately so we can help you.