U.S. Supreme Court Petitioned to Force Prosecutors to Turn Over Evidence of Innocence
The U.S. Supreme Court has been petitioned to overturn a federal appellate court decision regarding the constitutionality of prosecutors failing to inform criminal defendants of evidence of innocence before they engage in collecting a guilty plea. Conversely, on May 1, attorneys for the city of Brownsville, urged the Supreme Court to leave the current decision as is, i.e. the decision, as made by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, that there is no constitutional violation when prosecutors fail to inform criminal defendants of this evidence before taking a guilty plea.
The petition to overturn the decision was submitted by a man who pled guilty to assault without knowing that camera evidence existed proving his innocence. He maintains that the failure to turn over the video as evidence was a violation of the long-standing Brady v. Maryland decision, which requires prosecutors to turn over exculpatory evidence. In the case, the petitioner did eventually win a $2 million jury verdict against the city in federal court for this oversight once the video’s existence came to light, however, the Fifth Circuit reversed this decision, noting that there is no constitutional violation when material is not shared during the plea-bargaining phase. In doing so, the court provided prosecutors with significant leeway to deceive criminal defendants during this phase. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court is tasked with addressing the question of whether there was a due process violation associated with the government failing to disclose this exculpatory evidence before entering into plea agreements with criminal defendants.
City Prosecutors In Opposition, Arguing Evidence Of Innocence Can Be Withheld During Plea Phase
In its brief of opposition, the city of Brownsville, Texas has urged the U.S. Supreme Court to dismiss the petition based on the Fifth Circuit’s decision that the right cited to in Brady is a trial versus pre-plea phase right when it comes to criminal cases. The city has also claimed that the petitioner failed to prove that his due process rights were violated because the police were involved with the video evidence and the prosecutor’s decision was completely separate from police actions. Finally, the city also claims that this issue is best addressed during discovery, where the burden is on the defense to ensure that they have sought all relevant evidence during the discovery process before a guilty plea is entered into.
Innocent People Pleading Guilty In The Dark & Due To Fear Is A Serious Issue That Needs To Be Addressed
Today, more than nine out of 10 convictions result in plea-bargains; a number of which result in the convictions of innocent individuals. There is no question that there are a number of cases nationwide in which criminal defendants enter guilty pleas in spite of the existence of a significant amount of evidence of their innocence. If the U.S. Supreme Court steps in, it could reverse the ability for the government to suppress evidence in an effort to encourage innocent defendants to take guilty pleas in violation of due process.
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