What is Exculpatory Evidence?
Evidence in criminal cases falls into three categories
- Evidence that will help show a defendant is innocent of the charges against him
- Evidence that will help show a defendant is guilty of the charges against him
- Evidence that neither helps show innocence nor guilt
The first type of criminal evidence, evidence that can help a defendant, is known as exculpatory evidence. It first became well-known in 1963 (in the case of Brady vs. Maryland), when the U.S. Supreme Court held that the government has a duty (a Constitutional duty) to disclose material evidence in a criminal case that is favorable to the defendant. Evidence is favorable if it helps show the defendant isn’t guilty or if it helps show the defendant’s sentence should be less.
The Constitutional issue at stake is the “Right of Due Process” to “Life, Liberty, or Property.” This right is set forth in the Fifth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendments.
When does the Duty to Provide Exculpatory Evidence Apply?
- Even if the defendant didn’t ask for it. It doesn’t have to be a willful failure – if it’s inadvertent, then a conviction might be overturned.
- Even if the evidence goes to impeachment (credibility) evidence as compared to evidence which shows the defendant didn’t do the crime.
Evidence is “material” if there’s a reasonable chance the evidence (if given to the defendant) would have altered the outcome. The key is – is the failure to disclose the evidence “prejudicial” to the defendant.
What are the Consequences for Failure to Disclose Exculpatory Evidence?
- The testimony of a witness (for example a police officer) can be excluded.
- The case might be dismissed.
- A conviction might be overturned.
- A new trial might be ordered.
- You may have a Civil Rights Claim against anyone and any organization (under state or federal authority) that failed to provide the Exculpatory Evidence. This includes the individual police officer or prosecutor, the local police organization, the District Attorney’s Office and the city or town where the wrong took place.
Contact Begelmen, Orlow & Melletz – Free Phone Consultation
If you think any law enforcement officials, either the police or the prosecution, have or had evidence that can help you and failed to give it to you, contact our firm for a free phone consultation. You may be able to overturn the verdict. You may also have a Civil Rights claim against the police, the prosecutor or any responsible party for failing to help you when they knew they had evidence that could have kept you out of jail. We have offices in New Jersey and in Pennsylvania and handle Civil Rights violations that happen anywhere in the United States.