Recently, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced an “update” to its policy requiring prosecutors to provide defense attorneys with evidence favorable to their clients. This update clarified the fact that prosecutors are required to turn over “any exculpatory evidence, not just material exculpatory evidence.”
“The integrity of the criminal justice system requires that prosecutors play fair in seeking justice,” said District Attorney Jackie Lacey
The update to the discovery policy was prompted after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought suit against former Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley. The ACLU maintained that Cooley instructed prosecutors to routinely suppress exculpatory evidence that they were required by law to disclose to the defense counsel.
How Will this Update Affect Me?
This update ensures that criminal defendants are afforded the basic constitutional right to a fair trial by aligning itself with the rulings from key decisions made in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) and Barnett v. Superior Court, 50 Cal. App. 4th 890 (2010).
Brady v. Maryland
In Brady, petitioner Brady and a companion were found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Prior to the trial, Brady’s defense counsel requested that the prosecutor allow him to review the companion’s out-of-court statements concerning the murder. The prosecutor allowed the defense counsel to examine several of these statements, but withheld a statement in which the companion confessed to committing the murder.
The United States Supreme Court affirmed the United States Court of Appeals ruling that suppression of the confession violated the petitioner’s Fourteenth Amendment right to Due Process since the companion’s confession was “material either to guilt or punishment.”
Barnett v. Superior Court
In Barnett, petitioner Barnett was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Prior to his conviction, Barnett’s defense counsel informed the court that the prosecutor had produced over 300 pages of discovery materials and 64 compact discs of audio tape. At issue were 24 discovery requests that the court denied after concluding that they were not material to the defense’s case.
The California Supreme Court ruled that criminal defendants do not need to show that the evidence seeking to be discovered is “material.” Rather, a defendant must only show that he or she has a reasonable basis to believe that the specific material(s) sought actually exist. This decision relaxed the standard previously set forth in Brady that evidence must be material in order to be discoverable.
The Brady Alert System
The Brady Alert System is a computer-based system that assists Los Angeles district attorneys in complying with their constitutional obligations under Brady. This system transmits any Brady information relating to a peace officer or governmentally-employed witness testifying on behalf of the prosecution to the defense counsel prior to trial.
The update explicitly provides that pending investigations against peace officers or government witnesses can be included in the district attorney’s database, known as the Brady Alert System. Evidence of police misconduct must also be included in the Brady Alert System.
Information in this national database system is transmitted to defense attorneys prior to a trial when relevant to a criminal defendant.
Will it Work?
The Los Angeles District Attorney’s decision to revamp its discovery policy has been met with praise as well as skepticism.
David Sapp, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California, remarked that, “Ms. Lacey deserves a lot of credit for demonstrating leadership to move forward with these changes.”
Others, such as Professor Gabriel J. Chin of UC Davis Law School, cautioned the public that “clarifications don’t guarantee compliance.”
“It is hard for a prosecutor to know what will help the defense case because he or she will be looking at the facts from the perspective of the prosecution,” explained Professor Chin.
Contact Wallin & Klarich Today
If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, it is imperative that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. The skilled Southern California defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have over 30 years of experience successfully defending clients against prosecutorial misconduct. We are available to answer any questions you have and will go the extra mile to fight for your freedom.
Our offices are located in Orange County, Los Angeles, San Diego, Ventura, West Covina, Torrance, Riverside, Victorville, San Bernardino and Sherman Oaks. Give us a call today at (888) 280-6839 to discuss your case. We will be there when you call.