On May 18, The New York Times wrote an editorial about the 50 year anniversary of Brady v. Maryland that explores the insufficiency of what it terms “the Brady rule” (that is, the obligation of the state to turn over exculpatory evidence to defendants) in ensuring fairness and accountability in our criminal justice system.
Referring to a study by students at Yale Law School which is posted on our Research page, The Times says the Brady rule “has been restricted by subsequent rulings of the court and has been severely weakened by a near complete lack of punishment for prosecutors who flout the rule,” continuing, “The court has also declined to require the disclosure of such evidence during negotiations in plea bargains, which account for about 95 percent of cases.”
The Times refers to the case of John Thompson (featured on our New Orleans page) in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a $14 million jury award to Thompson which the Orleans District Attorney’s Office was to pay for withholding Brady material that almost cost Thompson his life. The Times challenges, “Outrageous breaches of due process rights in such cases show that the Brady rule — which seems essentially voluntary in some places — is simply insufficient to ensure justice.”
The Times suggests that a policy of open file discovery, as North Carolina and Ohio have implemented (featured on our Model Bills page), ought to be adopted by other states and the Justice Department to ensure a more fair system. The editorial concludes,The best way to fulfill the promise of Brady is with open-files reform, which addresses the need for full disclosure of evidence that could show a defendant’s innocence.