This column is written by D.C. Criminal Lawyer Jason Kalafat, an experienced attorney at Price Benowitz LLP in D.C. who handles complex DUI and serious felony cases. The attorneys at Price Benowitz also practice groups in Immigration, Personal Injury, and Trust & Estates law.
In March 2012, a special investigation by a federal judge concluded that two Justice Department prosecutors intentionally hid evidence in the 2008 case against Sen. Ted Stevens, then facing false-statements charges. He was convicted just before the 2008 election, losing his seat in the Senate.
Now, almost seven years later, according to the National Law Journal, “federal judges in Washington are considering a rule that describes in detail for the first time the government’s obligation to turn over evidence to defense lawyers.”
Federal prosecutors are legally required to provide information to the defense in criminal cases, even if the information is potentially favorable to the defense. However, it is up to each court and to individual judges to decide how to enforce this requirement.
On Wednesday Feb. 3, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia announced a proposed change to the local rules that would “set court-wide standards for what information prosecutors must disclose and when they must start producing that evidence to the defense.”
In defending the proposed change, the committee of judges and lawyers in D.C. from the prosecution and defense bar, who have been working on drafting the rule for the past year, cites the landmark case of Brady v. Maryland.
In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled in the Brady case that the government has a responsibility to disclose material evidence, which has the potential to change the outcome of a case, to the defense. The proposed D.C. rule would require prosecutors to more promptly turn information over to the defense by giving them a specific time frame for doing so.
This is an important step by the courts to memorialize this ethical burden on the prosecution. The criminal defense community is happy to see the courts stepping in. Implementing such a rule would benefit defense lawyers and prosecutors by helping the latter understand their responsibilities and obligations, making criminal cases proceed more fairly and smoothly.
In the past, the Department of Justice has opposed rules and legislation which attempted to address Brady v. Maryland, and has indicated that it opposes this new proposed D.C. rule.
Borderstan contributor and law firm sponsor Price Benowitz LLP