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You Have a Right to Know About Exculpatory Evidence

brady, San Jose criminal defense attorney

Throughout a criminal investigation, sometimes evidence is discovered that proves the defendant did not commit the crime being investigated. This evidence, called exculpatory evidence, has the ability to completely end the ordeal of a drawn-out investigation and the associated costs for the defendant on trial.

Unfortunately, there have been many instances of law enforcement or prosecutors withholding exculpatory evidence from defendants and their legal counsel during a criminal investigation. In these situations, the defendant would be cleared of their criminal charges if the evidence was made known but must stay a suspect because of its concealment.

The 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brady v. Maryland formally granted all criminal defendants the right to know about any exculpatory evidence discovered by the prosecution. The prosecutors of a criminal case has a legal responsibility to disclose any exculpatory evidence to defendants and their defense counsel.

What Rights Does Brady v. Maryland Guarantee?

The Brady v. Maryland Supreme Court case resulted in a tremendously important ruling. The Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution’s failure to share exculpatory evidence that is “material” to the defendant’s guilt or punishment violates the defendant’s constitutional right to due process. The suppression of exculpatory evidence does not have to be intentional to be unacceptable in the eyes of the court. Even if the prosecution is unaware of the evidence because police did not notify them of its existence, the prosecution is in violation of the requirements established in Brady.

Evidence Must be Exculpatory and Material to Guilt or Punishment

Not just any evidence is covered by the Brady v. Maryland standard. In order to be exculpatory evidence, the evidence must be both “exculpatory” and “material” to guilt or punishment. “Exculpatory” in this context means that it negates guilt or reduces the punishment a defendant would otherwise receive. “Material to guilt or punishment” refers to the importance of the evidence. Evidence which would not make a difference in the outcome of the verdict or sentence is not exculpatory evidence.  Most prosecution agencies turn over the vast majority of evidence in their possession to the defense and implement policies to make sure no evidence is withheld.

Brady Material Can Include Many Types of Evidence

Brady evidence can include physical evidence such as DNA analysis, urine, blood, or breath tests, drug test results, and fingerprint analysis. Intangible evidence such as confessions made by co-defendants, police reports, and witness information can also be considered Brady evidence. Brady material can even include evidence that challenges the credibility of a witness. For example, discovering that a witness has lied in court before may discredit the information they shared about the defendant. This could be the difference between a guilty verdict and a not guilty verdict.

If you have been charged with a crime, speak with an experienced San Jose, CA criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Call (408) 277-­0377 to schedule an appointment with the Law Office of Wesley Schroeder today.