The court process is depicted a little bit different on television compared to how it actually occurs in real life. On TV, there are often surprise witnesses and last-minute evidence that flips a case, but the real court system is designed to prevent against this “gotcha” style court proceeding. That’s because more than 50 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case of Brady v. Maryland that helped to establish how the case against the defendant would be introduced at trial. Below, we take a closer look at how Brady v. Maryland changed the court process, and why that’s important for you if you’re ever charged with a crime.
Brady V. Maryland
We won’t delve into all the specifics of Brady v. Maryland, but basically it involved the establishment of a due process requirement for the prosecution. In the Brady case, the U.S. Supreme court held that due process requires prosecutors to disclose all “favorable” and potentially exculpatory evidence to the defendant and their lawyers. In other words, you have a right to know which evidence casts you in a bad light, and conversely, which evidence the prosecution encountered that helps in your case.
You might think it’s a little odd that the prosecution has to tip their hand a little before trial, but you get the chance to defend yourself, and the best way to do that is by knowing what type of evidence may be used against you. That doesn’t mean you’ll always have a perfect answer to the evidence, but you have the right to know that the defense plans to call a witness or possibly introduce breathalyzer data before your trial.
This gives the defense plenty of time to determine some potential threats to their case, and to come up with their own challenges. For example, if the breathalyzer data isn’t made public until halfway through your trial, your legal team wouldn’t have time to ensure the machine had been serviced at proper intervals or call an expert witness to refute the legal basis of its entry into the court record. You need to have time to plan your defense based on all the evidence that could be used against you, and that’s what is established in Brady v. Maryland.
Due Process Protections Act
Interestingly, the holdings in Brady v. Maryland recently got stronger thanks to an updated act. The Durbin-Sullivan Due Process Protections Act, introduced in 2019 by senators Dick Durbin and Dan Sullivan, helped to enhance the constitutional rights of defendants charged in federal court to have access to their Brady materials. Despite the findings in Brady, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, between 1989 and 2017, prosecutors concealed exculpatory evidence at trial in at least 44 percent of all state and federal cases that were later reversed due to a wrongful conviction. In nearly half of all wrongful convictions, the prosecution withheld evidence that could have helped proved someone’s innocence.
The updated bill requires that prosecutors be made aware of the protections held in Brady v. Maryland in an oral and written order at the first scheduled court date, and it reminds the prosecution of potential consequences of violating the order. These consequences can involve:
- Expedited pre-trial relief.
- A continuance until all Brady materials can be viewed by the defense.
- Charge dismissal.
- Sanctions against the prosecution.
When it comes to choosing a defense firm for your criminal case, make sure that you move forward with a firm that understands all the aspects afforded under Brady v. Maryland so that your legal team can make a challenge in the event your due process rights are violated. For more information, or to talk to a criminal defense firm about your criminal case, reach out to Avery and the team at Appelman Law Firm today.