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June 07, 2014

Blowing it in Brooklyn: When prosecutors withhold evidence favorable to the accused.

Sometimes winning isn't everything. To be sure, there are times when winning is ugly and disturbing.

This morning I was riveted to "For a Respected Prosecutor, An Unpardonable Failure", by Joaquin Sapien at ProPublica, the non-profit investigative journalism project launched in 2007 that won Pultizer prizes for reporting in 2010 and 2011.

Every criminal defense lawyer is familiar with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling 50 years ago that suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to a defendant who has requested it violates due process. Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) . As a result of Brady, federal and state prosecutors are in effect under a continuing obligation to disclose information or evidence which tends to prove the innocence of a criminal defendant, or would allow the defense to impeach the credibility of government witnesses.*

Sapien has written a fine article about wrenching and almost unfathomable consequences for defendants and their families when even well-regarded Assistant U.S. Attorneys or Assistant District Attorneys fail to turn over exculpatory evidence and information. Lengthy but excellent.

*Prosecutors under Brady are also required to turn over evidence or information which could be used to reduce a sentence.

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(Bebeto Matthews/AP Photo)

Jonathan Fleming (above hugging one of his lawyers) was 27 when he reported to prison after his conviction on a murder charge. Last month, after serving 24 years in prison of a 25 year sentence, Fleming, now 51, was released. The withheld evidence in his case was a time-stamped phone bill and a communication from the Orlando police (indicating Fleming was seen around his Orlando hotel at the time of the Brooklyn murder) that powerfully supported Fleming's alibi he was in Orlando, Florida rather than Brooklyn at the time the murder occurred.

Posted by JD Hull at June 7, 2014 05:36 PM

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