It’s been a bedrock legal principle and undisturbed judicial ruling issued at the highest level for well more than half a century, and yet news stories emerge with some regularity evidencing prosecutorial misconduct aimed at avoiding its application.
“It” is the so-called Brady Rule, forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in a seminal 1963 criminal law case.
In a nutshell, the rule requires this: release by prosecutors to defense attorneys without delay of all evidence potentially favorable to a defendant or otherwise relevant in a case.
How often is that affirmative duty violated?
It is of course hard to say, although the requirement is unquestionably sidestepped by prosecutors in select cases all the time. That much is clear from repeated instances of confirmed prosecutorial misconduct.
One demonstration of that emerged prominently last week, with a federal judge overseeing a case alleging rioting of multiple defendants during President Trump’s inauguration last year weighing in with an uncompromising ruling and harsh words.
What rankled Judge Robert E. Morin of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia was bad-faith prosecutorial behavior that sought to unlawfully deprive defense attorneys of relevant video information in the case. Notwithstanding the government’s repeated assertions to the court that only a single relevant video existed, scores of videos and related evidence were actually in the prosecution’s possession.
The government paid for that. Morin cited the intentional withholding of evidence as justification for dismissing criminal charges against the defendants.
Unsurprisingly, defense attorneys lauded the court’s stance. One attorney stated that the judge succeeded in his attempt “to rebalance the scales of justice.”
We suspect that our readers who deeply cherish the notion of a fundamentally fair playing field in criminal law cases uniformly harbor the same view.