Let’s say that you have been charged with a crime and are set to go to trial. If this is the case, can evidence against you be withheld against your knowledge? The answer is no. Once you are charged with a crime, the court will set a time in which you can make a request for discovery. You can make a motion to find out what you are being charged with and why because this is for your knowledge. The government is held responsible for disclosing evidence whenever it discovers it, even during the trial process.
What Evidence Must Be Disclosed and What Evidence is Exempt?
There is an astonishing amount of things that may be disclosed to you upon your request. The discovery process, by means of the court, is meant to be very broad. This means that you are allowed a right to your evidence so that you can make informed decisions and minimize the need for surprise when things make it to trial. Some things included in disclosure to you include oral and written statements made by you, tape-recorded statements, testimony, your criminal record, information from examinations, information from tests or experiments, and names and qualifications of experts in the field. You must also have all books, papers, documents, and photographs relating to the crime released to you at your request. You also have a right to exculpatory evidence, which is evidence that will favor you in court and clear you of all guilt. The government has no room to cover up evidence that may keep you out of jail or other trouble.
However, there are some things that the government does not have to disclose to you. This includes work product of the government, and statements by government witnesses. There is a rule known as work-product, which protects any documents made by the government in connection with investigating or prosecuting the case. The defendant has no need or right to know the theories and thought processes involved with the government.
Do You Have Access to Police and Prosecution Files?
Unfortunately, no. You and your attorney are not permitted to look through law enforcement documents and objects in search of evidence that will help your case. However, a defense attorney is permitted to file pretrial motions asking a judge to force a prosecutor to give the defense access to police and prosecution files. They, at the very least, must review these files and make a determination of whether or not the defense is entitled to them. The defense, however, must typically show in advance that there is a good chance the information is subject to discovery.
In 2011, a man was exonerated after serving a grueling 25 years in prison for his wife’s murder. In 2013, a former Texas judge and prosecutor from the known case agreed to serve nine days in jail and surrender his law license. Why? He withheld evidence in the prosecution involving the man. Prosecutors are very sadly granted immunity most of the time and rarely prosecuted for alleged misconduct, which can include withholding exculpatory evidence. It was found that Morton, the man involved in trial, was not guilty after DNA tests implicated another man in the murder of his wife. Too often information will be withheld when it is frowned upon in the court of law to do so. These are rights that a defendant is rightfully entitled to!
If you feel like you have a case and evidence is being withheld from you, you should always speak to an attorney about your rights. Some evidence must be disclosed to any defendant that is asking for it. You can call the Blair Law Firm today to speak to an attorney that you can trust.