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What happens when a prosecutor withholds evidence

For Seattle residents who are facing criminal charges, the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland may be relevant. The Court held that if a prosecutor uncovers evidence that is favorable and material to the defendant, the prosecutor must reveal that information. This is true even if the evidence is not necessarily exculpatory. If it comes to light that a prosecutor has not done this, a new trial could result.

One case in which this occurred dealt with a robbery in which the perpetrator was described as having dreadlocks. However, after the man was convicted, the prosecutor who was involved in the appeal found a mug shot of the man. Taken just two days prior to the robbery he was convicted for, the photo showed a short-haired man. When the man's attorney requested a new trial, the first prosecutor argued that he might have worn a wig and that the photo did not exonerate him. However, the evidence was favorable and material, and a new trial was ordered.

The Brady rule was violated in a New York trial in September when a man was on trial for the murder of his ex-girlfriend's son. Once the trial had started, the prosecutor admitted that a witness had seen a different ex-boyfriend enter the residence right before the boy's murder.

While getting a new trial is not common, prosecutors and police are required to follow the law, and if they do not, their case may be in jeopardy. For example, evidence that is obtained illegally might be thrown out. A defendant might decide to plead not guilty and rely on defense counsel at trial.

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