Brady v. Maryland: Tried Attorney
July 14, 2015
Earlier this month, a former Burleson County district attorney was disbarred after a disciplinary committee found that he had committed serious prosecutorial misconduct over the course of a murder investigation and trial in 1994. The committee found that the former district attorney had committed the following infractions: (1) he failed to turn over evidence to the defense counsel; he knowingly presented false testimony to the jury; and (3) he made a false statement of fact to the trial judge.
All attorneys in Texas must abide by the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, which have been adopted by the State Bar of Texas. Prosecutors, however, had additional ethical responsibilities that are mandated by the U.S. Constitution. In Brady v. Maryland, the U.S. Supreme Court held that prosecutors must disclose to the defense counsel all “exculpatory evidence” that is “material to guilt or punishment.” Translated from legalese, this means that prosecutors are required to turn over evidence that shows the defendant is innocent to the defense counsel. For example, if the prosecution has a video that corroborates the defendant’s alibi, the prosecution would have to give a copy of the video to the defense counsel.
Prosecutorial misconduct has the potential to seriously disrupt the processes of our justice system. Prosecutors are in a unique position in the legal system, and they have the ability to negate the protections that the U.S. Constitution affords to criminal defendants. “Open-file discovery” reform ensures that prosecutors are required to turn over all the evidence in their file—without making judgment calls about the meaning of “exculpatory” or “material.” In Texas, a law called The Michael Morton Act, which was enacted in 2013, does just that. We at Chad West, PLLC hope that other states and jurisdictions will follow in Texas’s footsteps—because prosecutorial misconduct can seriously endanger the life and liberty of innocent defendants.