Prosecutors May Be Required to Produce Evidence Before or During Trial
Is an individual convicted of a felony entitled to a new trial when the prosecution fails to disclose favorable evidence? What if the evidence would have probably produced a different result at trial? In Kyles v. Whitley (1995), the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) held that such an individual was entitled to a new trial.
Curtis Lee Kyles was on trial in 1984 for first-degree murder. The trial ended in a hung jury, and he was tried again, convicted, and sentenced to death. However, the defense was able to present evidence favorable to Kyles that the State had failed to disclose before or during trial. The suppressed evidence included eyewitness statements taken by the police following the murder, various statements made to the police by an informant who was never called to testify, and a computer print-out of license numbers on cars parked at the crime scene on the night of the murder. That list did not include the number of Kyles’ car.
It may be surprising to know that it is not necessarily a violation when the prosecution withholds favorable evidence from the defense. The prosecution has discretion in determining what evidence to suppress. However, the prosecution also has the corresponding burden to gauge the likely effect of all such suppressed evidence. The evidence need not prove the defendant’s innocence, but the prosecution must disclose the evidence when a reasonable probability exists that the evidence could change the result of the proceeding.
Prosecution Duty To Learn Of And Obtain Evidence
Consequently, the prosecution has the duty to learn of any favorable evidence known to others such as the police acting on the government’s behalf. The prosecution has the duty to learn of the evidence that the police or others acting on the government’s behalf have, even if the police or others fail for any reason to bring evidence to the prosecution’s attention. The prosecution’s duty to learn of and obtain the evidence held by others acting on the government’s behalf greatly expands the criminal defendant’s potential access to evidence. No longer can the prosecution simply wait until the police or others acting on the government’s behalf approach the prosecution with evidence. Nor can the prosecution claim that others acting on the government’s behalf never provided the prosecution with evidence that it would in turn have to provide the criminal defendant’s attorney. Whether unintentional omission or highly objectionable tactic, the prosecution can no longer plead ignorance and must at least learn of the evidence to gauge its effect. In Brady v. Maryland, SCOTUS protected criminal defendants’ rights when it held that the prosecution could not suppress requested evidence material either to guilt or to punishment of the defendant. Kyles further protects defendants’ rights.
In Kyles, SCOTUS determined that the net effect of the state-suppressed evidence favoring Kyles raised a reasonable probability that its disclosure would have produced a different result at trial. The conviction could no longer stand. SCOTUS reversed the defendant’s conviction and remanded the case for a new trial.
If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges, contact The Wright Law Group today. Our attorneys intimately understand the rules of evidence, and stand ready to challenge the state on any efforts to withhold evidence that may be beneficial to your case. If you have questions about a potential evidence issue in your case, call The Wright Law Group today. With over 25 years of experience in Criminal Law, The Wright Law Group, P.C. is well-equipped to assist you. Call us now at (702) 405-0001 to arrange a consultation.