Importance of Divulging Exculpatory Evidence

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It is mandatory for the prosecuting attorney to divulge any information that could absolve a defendant. Preceding the trial, if the collected evidence indicates innocence, the defense has an obligation to provide such information to the defense prior to the trial’s start. However, this is a continual requirement, both prior to and throughout the trial. On numerous occasions, courts have examined the prosecuting attorney’s obligation to divulge evidence that could acquit the suspect.

In 1935, Mooney v. Holohan, 294 U.S. 103 the Court determined the prosecution violated the Fourteenth Amendment to secure a conviction when they knowingly and intentional used fabricated testimony. In 1957, Alcorta v. Texas 355 U.S. 28, the judge stated the prosecuting attorney must notify the defense if they subsequently discover a witness provide fabricated statements. In 1959, Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264, the Supreme Court stated the prosecution is also bound to disclose any knowledge that would affect the witness’s integrity. In 1963, Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, was possibly the most momentous case in defining what findings could vindicate the accused. The Court significantly altered previous decisions concerning the prosecution’s responsibility to divulge exculpatory information. The Court stated if the defense request materials, prosecutors would violate due process if they suppress material evidence that is advantageous to the accused.

Whether evidence is considered “material” is not entirely clear but in United States v. Agurs, 427 U.S. 97 (1976), the Supreme Court offered some clarification. (PG) The accused woman used a self-defense alibi; however, the murdered victim’s past criminal records were not disclosed by the prosecution. Since the defense did not unequivocally request the victim’s prior criminal record, the persecution was not bound to share this information with the defense. The problem with this ruling is the obvious fact that such facts cannot be requested by the defense if they do not know it exists. The Courts did little to clarify this question since the ruling stated if there is no “reasonable probability” the information would have altered the outcome of the conviction; therefore, it was not deemed exculpatory evidence.

In Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419 (1995), two questions needed to be clarified. First, would the case have resulted in a mistrial or acquittal if the prosecution had provided the findings to the defense team? Secondly, would the discoveries which were withheld from the defense have created reasonable doubt for at least on juror? This case stated that there is a responsibility to share such information if it has the power to change the outcome. Usually, the judge or prosecutor will usually decide what materials have the potential to change the outcome of the case.

The prosecuting attorney’s final duty requires the preservation of any materials collected by the prosecution. Such stringent documentation prevents the prosecution from destroying materials to secure a conviction. Evidence is considered exculpatory when it met three requirements. First, the collected information must “play a significant role in the suspect’s defense” (PG 299). Secondly, the materials would be unobtainable by other means. Third, the destruction of the information would be done in a cognizant way to alter the Court’s ruling. In order to preserve the proof used during a case, the materials must be carefully inventoried; including who has access and the steps taken to secure such important documents.

The Court has stated “Society wins not only when the guilty are convicted but when criminal trials are fair; our system of the administration of justice suffers when any accused is treated unfairly.” (PG 297) Therefore, obtaining, inventorying, storing, and divulging exculpatory evidence is viewed with the utmost importance to secure and prevent a conviction from being overturned.

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Importance of Divulging Exculpatory Evidence. (2022, Jan 14). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/importance-of-divulging-exculpatory-evidence/

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