Police Misconduct: Officers Who Withhold Evidence Can Be Sued for a Brady Violation

Failure to disclose evidence that could help a defendant (a Brady Violation) can alter the criminal case against you by possibly having the charges dismissed or having a conviction overturned.

A Brady Violation also means that you probably have a Civil Rights Action against any police officers, prosecutors and anyone who withheld the exculpatory evidence or who manufactured evidence.

A Sample Case

In Tennison v. City of San Francisco, a Civil Rights lawsuit was brought against two homicide inspectors, the City and County of San Francisco. In this case, a man driving a car was shot and killed. Two suspects were arrested.

  • Police can’t bury exculpatory evidence in a file. The homicide inspectors got a call that two other people were responsible for the shooting and put the call notes into a memo. The inspectors sent a file which contained the memo to the prosecutors but they never discussed the contents of the memo with the prosecutor and never made the memo available to the defendant’s lawyers. The two people arrested, including Tennison, were convicted.
  • Police can’t decide when and why to disclose the exculpatory evidence.  Subsequently, one of the two other suspects admitted in a videotaped interview that he was the shooter. The videotaped interview was given to one of the two inspectors who didn’t disclose the confession until there was a motion for a new trial. The disclosure was inadvertent. The videotape was ruled inadmissible in part because it was deemed untrustworthy.

The two original convictions were overturned 13 years later. The two people who had been convicted then brought a Brady violation Civil Rights lawsuit.

Police Misconduct Defined

  • The duty to provide exculpatory evidence applies to the police as well as the prosecutors.
  • The police must affirmatively give prosecutors notice of the exculpatory evidence. Putting a memo in a file is not sufficient. If someone, known by police, tells them that the wrong person was arrested, names people believed to have committed the crime and provides evidence confirming that they had knowledge of the events – then that evidence has to be actively disclosed. It can’t be buried in a file
  • The fact that the evidence is ultimately disclosed isn’t enough either. Exculpatory evidence should be disclosed when it can actually help the defendant.
  • The videotape confession was given by someone who was given the Miranda warnings, identified by a reliable witness, was known by the officers and whose account confirmed knowledge of the events and directly contradicted the prosecution’s witness. It was exculpatory and should have been disclosed. Whether the evidence is reliable should be left to the defendant and the defendant’s lawyer. The police shouldn’t decide what evidence is credible.

Police Officers and Defendants Should Know What the Brady Law Is

Many cities and county agencies have procedures on what to do with exculpatory evidence. Where they don’t, police officers should be trained to do the right thing. Suing a police officer: Defendants should know that they can bring a Civil Rights Claim against the police when they fail to give them or their lawyers evidence that would stop the pain and also keep them out of jail. The purpose of criminal actions is justice – it’s not about winning.

Contact Begelman & Orlow, P. C. – Free Phone Consultation

If the police, prosecutors or anyone else interferes with your right to defend yourself in New Jersey, Pennsylvannia or anywhere else in the United States, please call us for a free phone consultation. We will investigate bringing a Civil Rights lawsuit against the individuals and organizations responsible for your loss of freedom.

Begelman & Orlow, P. C. has offices in New Jersey and in Pennsylvania and handles Civil Rights violations that happen anywhere in the United States.

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