There are a growing number of convictions overturned across the country – another just last month in Massachusetts — because prosecutors failed to disclose evidence of police misconduct that could have helped prove the defendant’s innocence. A convicted murderer in New Hampshire is seeking a new trial on similar grounds.
Called Brady material because of the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland, prosecutors are constitutionally required to turn over all favorable, material evidence to the defense. That includes evidence of police dishonesty such as lying in an official proceeding, falsifying evidence or stealing when an officer is going to testify, but can also include excessive use of force. The defense could then use the information to impeach an officer’s testimony.
“The only evidence linking [an Arizona mother formerly convicted of conspiring to kill her son, now released] to the murder of her son is the word of Detective Armando Saldate, Jr. – a police officer with a long history of misconduct that includes lying under oath as well as accepting sexual favors in exchange for leniency and lying about it,” Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Kozinski wrote in the opinion.
The Arizona case is a recent example of a nationwide trend where courts have learned long after the fact that prosecutors have failed to disclose Brady material. Most frequently, this leads courts to overturn convictions, and in some cases dismiss the charges entirely. Judge Kozinski noted in his opinion that it is often difficult to get prosecutors to comply with Brady requirements because they feel that it weakens their cases. Courts have made it clear, however, that they will not tolerate Brady disclosure violations.