innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Monday, February 27, 2006

Full Disclosure

This article by Fredric N. Tulsky of the Mercury News delves into the rules involving "discovery" evidence. Revealing certain evidence to defense attorneys is left to the discretion of prosecutors and at times, this can cause problems for the defense:

Weeks before two Palo Alto police officers went on trial last March for beating a motorist, the prosecutor asked a San Jose police training specialist to determine if the officers acted appropriately.

But Sgt. Jeff Martin came to a conclusion at odds with the prosecution's case: The officers, he told deputy district attorney Peter Waite, had acted properly and legally. When Martin handed Waite a written report confirming those conclusions, Waite refused to accept it.

Though he had a legal duty to provide the defense with any evidence that could help its case, Waite delayed telling the officers' lawyers about Martin or his report until the eve of the trial -- after Martin complained to supervisors that Waite was improperly withholding evidence.

Waite defends his actions in the high-profile case, which involved the emotionally charged issues of race and alleged police abuse. But they have renewed questions about how the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office handles evidence that could be of help to criminal defendants.

Last month, the office adopted a new policy to discourage prosecutors from withholding the kind of evidence that Martin created. But even as experts applaud the change, they note that it does not fix an inherent conflict: It is up to prosecutors to decide what information needs to be shared with their adversaries.

``It defies logic to expect prosecutors to be the ones to make the judgments about what evidence might be exculpatory,'' said Mary Pollard, a North Carolina defense attorney who represented Alan Gell, whose wrongful conviction in a death penalty case helped spur a sweeping reform there. ``It is a question not only of their integrity but also their judgments: Will prosecutors see the evidence in the same way?''

For the whole story, click here.

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