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Exculpatory Evidence and Discovery: What Do Prosecutors Have to Share?

Given that a potential criminal conviction can result in the loss of the defendant’s freedom, criminal trials have incredibly high stakes. For that reason, it is crucial for the defense to have at their disposal every piece of evidence that can help the defendant’s case. Making sure that the defense is fully prepared for trial helps ensure that the defendant is given a fair trial and gives the best chance at reaching the most just result.

Discovery is the exchange of information and evidence that occurs between the prosecution and defense before trial. Rules of discovery generally provide guidelines for the type of information, such as information that might show a defendant’s innocence, that each side is required to provide to the other. Unfortunately, some prosecutors do not always follow the rules of discovery, which can result in the defense attorney receiving less evidence to be used at trial, or failing to receive key evidence that points to the innocence of his or her client or undermines the state’s case. That lack of disclosure can make it so that the defendant does not have a fair shot at a fair and just trial.

Discovery In the News

According to The Florida Times Union, prosecutors failed to turn over video evidence in a recent high-profile shooting case. Courtney James Phillips is facing trial for the shooting of a Jacksonville sailor. Just a few days before the scheduled start of the trial, the prosecution informed Phillips’ defense attorneys that there was previously undisclosed video footage of interviews of potential witnesses in the case. The defense stated that they had requested recordings of interviews over two years ago and were told that the interviews were not recorded. With the identification of this new evidence, the defense is arguing that this evidence could potentially exonerate Phillips and should have been disclosed sooner; the prosecution says they were unaware of the video until now, and that it isn’t germane to the case.

Fortunately this evidence reached the defense before trial, which means they can now try to incorporate this evidence into their defense strategy, although there is a question of whether they might need additional time to prepare for trial in light of the new evidence.

Discovery Rules

The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that the prosecution must turn over material evidence when requested by the defense. If the evidence is material to the defendant’s guilt or potential punishment, then failure to disclose the evidence is a violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights. In subsequent cases, the Supreme Court said that many different types of evidence, including evidence that is being used to impeach or undermine a witness, are considered material and must be disclosed. In such cases, the prosecution can be found to have violated this rule when, like in the Phillips case, they claim they were unaware of the evidence when the defense requested it.

The impact of the discovery of such evidence depends on the stage of the trial. Failure to disclose such evidence can lead to sanctions against attorneys or a new trial with the new evidence included.

If you or your loved one has been arrested or has questions about your criminal case, contact the experienced Miami attorneys at The Baez Law Firm for a consultation today.

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