As a criminal defendant, in Florida and elsewhere, you may be unsure of the role of the prosecution in your case and how prosecutors are expected to conduct themselves when they obtain evidence that points towards your innocence. In many cases, prosecutors have a tendency to be laser-focused on securing a conviction, but the US Supreme Court (and Florida state courts) have made it clear that prosecutors have a duty to seek justice, which in certain circumstances may require them to disclose evidence to the defendant that could result in dismissal.
Criminal litigation can be rather frightening for the defendant — after all, an ineffective defense could lead to imprisonment. Given the inherently high-stakes nature of criminal litigation, it’s worth consulting with an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney for guidance. Your attorney will evaluate the claims asserted by the prosecution and will help you successfully challenge the prosecution for their failure to disclose evidence that may be favorable to your defense.
Prosecutors Have a Duty to Disclose Exculpatory And Impeachment Evidence
In Florida and throughout the country, State prosecutors cannot conceal evidence that could prove your innocence (or at the very least, mitigate your criminal liability).
In 1963, the US Supreme Court in Brady v. Maryland determined that due process in criminal litigation required that the prosecution disclose evidence favorable to the accused, whether that evidence tends to negate the guilt of the defendant, or whether it allows the defendant to impeach a witness. Subsequent case law (both federally and in Florida courts) have expanded and solidified these prosecutorial duties.
Understandably, all this legal terminology can be confusing for the layman, so let’s clarify the language a bit.
Prosecutors have a duty to disclose any and all information that would deprive the defendant of a fair trial, whether the defendant asked for the information or not. This can include evidence that directly speaks to the guilt of the defendant, or evidence that has the effect of undermining the credibility of a witness.
As the criminal defendant, you can establish that the prosecution committed a Brady violation by proving that:
a) The prosecution possessed evidence that was favorable to you;
b) The prosecution suppressed such evidence;
c) If the prosecution had not suppressed such evidence, there is a reasonably probability that there would be a different case outcome; and
d) You did not possess the evidence, nor could you obtain such evidence with reasonable diligence
Consider the following.
Suppose that you have been charged with DUI manslaughter in Florida. During the trial, you argue that, despite the fact you were driving while intoxicated, you did not collide with the victim’s vehicle — you argue that the road conditions caused the victim’s vehicle to lose control and crash instead. The prosecution’s case relies on eyewitness testimony of the collision (the testimony conflicts with your version of events).
Now, suppose that the prosecution discovers that the eyewitness does not actually remember the events, and is “guessing” at what actually occurred. This information is material to your case, as it would allow you to impeach the eyewitness and undermine the credibility of their testimony. If the prosecution fails to disclose this information to you, then they may have committed a Brady due process violation.
Failure to Disclose Constitutes a Due Process Violation
The prosecution need only disclose information that is material. What is “material” information in this context? Generally speaking, material information is any information that — if it is disclosed — is reasonably probable to change the outcome of the criminal proceedings.
Failure to disclose relevant exculpatory evidence or impeachment evidence constitutes a serious due process violation. The penalties for a failure to disclose depend on the circumstances, however. In some cases, the court may simply require that the prosecution turn over the favorable evidence that it has in its possession. In other cases, the court may dismiss the charges entirely and order a new trial.
Contact a skilled Florida criminal defense attorney today to get help with your case.