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prosecutor duty to disclose exculpatory material

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  • hobot
    posted 12-18-06 on Texas District & County Attorny Assoc. site in its prosecutor chit-chat forum on honest delimas on withholding evidence in favor of
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 3, 2007
      posted 12-18-06 on Texas District & County Attorny Assoc. site
      in its prosecutor chit-chat forum on honest delimas on
      withholding evidence in favor of defendents, especially to
      gain a "work saving plea" on traffic probable causes or
      "Bradley" stops.

      Is it really that simple? For evidence to be favorable it must
      "tend(s) to justify, excuse, or clear the defendant from alleged
      fault or guilt." 841 S.W.2d 399, 404. the charge is DWI, not
      defective tail lamp. So, despite my actions to the contrary, I'm
      not seeing how the fact that the officer's definition of
      "defective tail lamp" didn't fit the legal one does anything to
      justify, excuse or clear the defendant of DWI. It certainly
      results in the suppression of all of my evidence, but it doesn't
      seem to fit the definiton of 'favorable' under the three-prong
      test and I haven't uncovered any case on point.
      Can you really say that evidence that will most likely change the
      outcome from guilty to not guilty (or, more likely, dismissal of
      the charge) will not "clear ... the defendant of guilt"? The
      evidence of the deficiency in the initial stop results,
      presumably, in suppression of all subsequent evidence. Assume the
      defendant is convicted, and later discovers this evidence (a
      prison writ-writer helps him) - he files a complaint with the
      State Bar - are you comfortable telling them that the evidence was
      not "favorable" to the accused even though it would have changed
      the outcome? Having said all that, I would make a very diligent
      investigation for ANY other rationale to uphold the stop -
      speeding, any other "warnings" on the citation, ANYTHING - if you
      find something, great. If you do not find anything, use this as a
      lesson for your officers. Also remember, probable cause for the
      stop does not require that the offense (tail lamp) be committed,
      only that the officer believe that an offense was being committed.
      I had a case several years ago where the P/C for the stop was a
      window tint violation - on a 1978 (I think) truck that was later
      searched and found to contain LOTS of cocaine. Motion to suppress
      was denied even though there was no window tint violation because
      of the year model of the vehicle - because the officer BELIEVED an
      offense had occurred. BUT, if there really is a bad stop, don't
      make bad law by pursuing the case. If the defendant is really a
      bad guy, he'll mess up again, probably sooner rather than later.
      In a USSC case, United States v. Ruiz, 122 S. Ct. 2450, the
      question of whether a prosecutor had a duty to disclose
      exculpatory material before a guilty plea was addressed. The SC
      said that the Due Process Clause, which is the source of a
      prosecutor's obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence, applies
      in cases that go to TRIAL.

      When a defendant pleads guilty, he forgoes the opportunity to
      challenge the evidence and, therefore, no longer has a right to
      exculpatory evidence. [The SC left open the question as to whether
      that would apply to evidence that established absolute innocence.]

      Consistent with that case, a prosecutor could resolve a legal
      issue (or even a factual issue) by making a plea offer. The
      prosecutor is not obligated to inform the defense attorney of the
      details of the legal issue or even the factual issue, absent a
      specific question from the defense attorney [The Classic: Is the
      victim still around to testify?]

      So, in Ruiz, the prosecutor refused to turn over co-defendant
      statements that might have provided the defendant with impeachment
      material. The prosecutor didn't want the defendant to see those
      statements unless there was going to be a trial. The SC said that
      was OK, even though the defendant had to make the choice to plead
      guilty without the benefit of that information.

      And, as prosecutors, we do something like that all the time. Does
      any defendant really get full discovery before a guilty plea? No.
      That would defeat the purpose of the plea -- to reduce the work
      required by the prosecutor in exchange for a reduced sentence for
      the defendant.

      Our plea papers even have an express waiver of the right to
      exculpatory information, just to make things abundantly clear.
      That waiver is also helpful in subsequent writs, providing an
      answer to claims of innocence or ineffective assistance of
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