Prosecutors Must Disclose Exculpatory Evidence
Under the United States Supreme Court’s Brady decision, a criminal defendant has a due process right to obtain any exculpatory evidence that the prosecutor has, or has access to. That sound simple, but this is law, and it really helps to have an experienced Boston, Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer looking out for your rights.
What “Exculpatory” Means
The Brady rule applies to any evidence which is favorable to the defendant on the questions of either of guilt or punishment. Essentially, evidence is exculpatory if it: 1) tends to add weight to your innocence (such as witness testimony that someone else committed the crime); 2) lessens the weight of evidence against you (such as lessening the credibility of a witness against you); and, 3) may mitigate the court’s interpretation of the punishment you deserve.
For the prosecutor to have a duty to disclose, the evidence has to be “material” to the case. In plain English, evidence is only material if there is a reasonable probability that disclosure of the evidence to the defense would have resulted in a different outcome at trial.
Disputes arise between criminal defense lawyers and prosecutors as to what constitutes a “reasonable probability.” So convinced are many prosecutors in a defendant’s guilt that they have difficulty assessing the materiality of exculpatory evidence, prefering to catagorize exculpatory evidence as irrelevant.
What Your Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Do
Before trial, your lawyer can act to maximize the likelihood that the prosecutor turns over exculpatory evidence. Much of the effort involves simply making sure that the prosecutor understands the disclosure obligation, especially the fact that the obligation exists before trial. Since materiality has to be evaluated before the trial takes place, the only reasonable interpretation of the Brady rule is that prosecutors should err on the side of disclosure.
Attempting to persuade a prosecutor to fully appreciate the exculpatory nature of evidence is not without risks as experienced criminal defense attorneys are reluctant to disclose the defense theory of the case before trial. However, if the defense attorney fails to disclose the defense theory, the prosecutor may claim that he didn’t understand why a piece of evidence that he failed to disclose would have been regareded by the defense as exculpatory.
Commonwealth vs. Christina Martin
By demonstrating that the prosecution failed to disclose exculpatory toxicology testing results to the defense, Attorney Mahoney was able to persuade a Superior Court judge, and later the Supreme Judicial Court, to reverse Ms. Martin’s conviction for 1st degree murder. She was later freed from eight years of unjust incarceration.
Contact a Boston Criminal Attorney
Talk to a Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer early in your case to maximize his chances of forcing the prosecution to disclose exculpatory evidence. Call Kevin J. Mahoney at (617) 492-0055.
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