In a criminal case, the defendant has the right to see all of the evidence used by the other side to prosecute the accused. In some instances, prosecutors fail to turn over that evidence, hurting the defendant’s ability to defend himself in a criminal trial.
A Brady Violation describes a violation of the constitutional duty of evidence disclosure required to allow for due process and a fair trial.
The term comes from the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1963 – Brady v. Maryland. In that case, the prosecution withheld evidence that might have overturned the prosecutor’s case.
The Due Process Protections Act, signed into law in October 2020, helped strengthen the rights of the defendant in a criminal trial. Alabama is one of six states that has formalized the Brady decision in Criminal Procedure, Rule 16. In the state, judges will remind federal prosecutors of their obligation to disclose all evidence in their possession under the law.
The Brady Case
In 1963, John Brady and Charles Boblit were charged with first-degree murder in Maryland. The pair were convicted and sent to death row. However, Brady says he participated in the preceding robbery but not the killing, a fact supported by a confession by Boblit. But the confession never made it to Brady’s trial.
Both men received the death penalty. Brady’s new lawyer realized the evidence had been suppressed and filed an appeal.
The Maryland Court of Appeals agreed that the prosecutor had violated Brady’s rights. He was entitled to a new trial but only on the issue of punishment. Lawyers for Brady sought a reversal of the entire conviction, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in 1963.
Ultimately, the court decided in a 7-2 decision that the prosecution did suppress evidence violating the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Still, the justices decided any confession would not have exonerated Brady.
The opinion was written by Justice William O. Douglas, the longest-serving Supreme Court justice. It said Brady was not entitled to a new trial. Instead, they remanded the case for reconsideration of his punishment.
Brady sat in prison for a total of sixteen years. Eventually, the governor granted him clemency. He was paroled in 1974.
The Brady Violation Outcome
This decision marked a revolutionary shift in criminal procedure, protecting the rights of the accused. The Brady Violation established that pretrial discovery requires disclosing evidence, even if it helps the other side’s case.
The decision imposed a new burden on the government and defense lawyers, that they have a constitutional and ethical duty to disclose information, even if it is favorable to the defendant.
Over the years, hundreds of convictions have been reversed due to Brady violations.
What is Brady Evidence?
Brady evidence is evidence that is favorable to the accused and has been withheld by the prosecution. The failure to disclose (this evidence) must also hurt the accused’s case. It doesn’t matter if the prosecutor knew or didn’t know he had possession of that evidence or if the withholding was intentional or unintentional.
Some examples of Brady evidence might include:
- An eyewitness account that contradicts a government witness at trial
- A witness who claims the accused doesn’t match who they saw
- Scientific reports such as fingerprints, firearm evidence, and DNA
- Physical evidence, including a murder weapon or clothing
- Any proof that someone else committed the crime the defendant is accused of
- Evidence that shows a witness may be lying
- Inconsistent pretrial witness statements that don’t match what is said in the trial
- Digital evidence, including recordings, photographs, audio, and video
- Evidence that the sentence should be less harsh along with the Federal Sentencing Guidelines
When prosecutors break this rule, it often becomes the basis for an overturned conviction. Unfortunately, the revelation sometimes takes years after the defendant has been convicted and spent time in prison.
Your Mobile Criminal Defense Attorney
If you believe that evidence has been suppressed in your criminal case, it’s essential to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can look into this for you.
Jason Darley is an aggressive and experienced criminal defense attorney who can file the motions necessary to challenge a violation. You deserve a fair trial under the due process of law.
Before trial, Mr. Darley will ensure that all evidence in your favor has been handed over and, if not, will move to dismiss the charges or seek other remedies in your favor.
Attorney Jason Darley is available to review the circumstances of your criminal case. You can reach him at his Mobile office at (251) 732-7058.