The right to a fair trial, and a fair playing field
In the 1963 landmark case of Brady v. Maryland, the US Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors cannot withhold exculpatory evidence from a defendant “where that evidence is material to either guilt or punishment.” To do so would be to violate the criminal defendant’s due process rights. In other words, the government must turn over any evidence that can help prove the defendant innocent or helps lessen the punishment.
In the 50 years that have passed, there are prosecutors all over the country that fail to comply with this due process requirement and laws that have been enacted in an effort to limit this responsibility. For example, California passed Proposition 115 in 1990 and one of the components of this Proposition instructed prosecutors to turn over potentially favorable evidence to the defense at least 30 days prior to trial. One of the side effects of this provision was that some prosecutors believed they were under no obligation to turn over this potentially favorable evidence for the defense at the preliminary hearing stage of a case, where judges decide whether there is sufficient evidence to hold a defendant to answer to trial.
Recently, however, two California appellate courts have made rulings which help to clear up this grey area and held that a prosecutor’s obligation to turn over potentially favorable evidence to the defense does not only apply to trials, but applies to preliminary hearings as well. This is of critical importance to a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney as preliminary hearings help resolve groundless and overcharged cases that cannot be proven at trial.
If you have been charged with a crime in the Metropolitan Courthouse, Criminal Courts Building, Airport Court or Burbank Courthouse, it is imperative that you contact attorney Ross Erlich for a free consultation so that you may know your rights. Remember that the role of a prosecutor is to achieve justice and not simply to get as many convictions as they can. To that end, it is important to have an aggressive defense attorney who will remind the prosecutor of their duty and make sure all evidence is discovered.