Brady v. Maryland – What Peace Officers Need to Know!
By OSS Academy Staff | Tue, 1 Mar 2016
Prosecutors have an affirmative duty to disclose information that may be favorable to a criminal defendant. The Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment guarantees that an accused receives a fair trial by requiring State officials, both peace officers and prosecutors to provide a defendant both exculpatory (favorable to defendant) and inculpatory (favorable to prosecution) evidence in a timely manner. In Brady v. Maryland, the U.S. Supreme Court held … that the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused … violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution.
Evidence is material under Brady … if there is a reasonable probability that had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of a hearing or trial proceeding would be different. The duty to disclose under the Brady standard extends to impeachment evidence, as well as exculpatory evidence. Three components or essential elements are necessary to claim a Brady violation:
- The prosecution actively suppressed or failed to disclose evidence;
- That evidence was exculpatory, mitigating, or of impeachment value; and
- The evidence was material.
Although Brady focuses on the word prosecutor, peace officers are not off-the-hook. First of all, courts see peace officers as an extension of the prosecutor and the State. Second, in most criminal cases law enforcement officers are the collectors and reporters of most criminal evidence. By design or error, some prosecutors may not follow the letter or the spirit of this important requirement. When challenged by a judge or defense, counsel may find it easy to point the finger when responding with … investigators did not provide me that data.
The question is what can you do to protect the integrity of your investigation, agency, and yourself? Here are some critical steps:
- Before meeting with prosecutors, collect all evidence, good or bad for the prosecution, reports, hard evidence and recordings in one box or folder.
- Prepare a receipt for the prosecutor to sign when the data is turned over.
- Don’t play the … I never saw it game?
- If there is something negative about one of the responding or investigating officers background, or the handling of the case that may damage or reflect poorly on the state’s case, fully expose it to the prosecutor.
We all know that successful prosecutions are important, but they are not worth your integrity, career, or personal freedom.
The Court of Criminal Appeals and the State Bar of Texas, with the help of TexasBarCLE, collaborated to produce a training video for police officers. Brady: A Simple Approach is a 58-minute video based on Brady v. Maryland, the U.S. Supreme Court case governing the disclosure of favorable evidence in criminal cases. The video is divided into three segments: the story of a conviction that was overturned after DNA evidence cleared the suspect 23 years later, the Brady v. Maryland case and what it means to law enforcement officers, and a series of hypothetical scenarios based on real cases.
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