Legal Updates

Duty To Disclose; Discovery of Exculpatory Information

In every criminal case, the State must disclose evidence that is exculpatory and material to guilt or innocence.  The State’s failure to disclose such evidence is a violation of Constitutional Due Process.  The State’s failure to disclose such evidence is called a Brady Violation.  (See Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963).  The rule hearkens back to the principle that the State’s interest should be grounded in justice, not convictions.  If the defendant is truly innocent, the State should not try the case.

Failure to provide discovery is call a Brady Violation.  Specifically, a Brady Violation occurs when:

  • the evidence withheld was favorable to the defendant because it was exculpatory or could have been used for impeachment;
  • the evidence was suppressed by the prosecution, either purposefully or inadvertently; and,
  • the juvenile suffered prejudice as a result of the district attorney’s failure to provide the evidence

See Commonwealth v. Moose, 602 A.2d 1265 (Pa. 1992).

Evidence is material where there is a reasonable probability that its disclosure would have undermined confidence in the verdict or changed the results of the proceeding.  Kyles v. Whitely, 514 U.S. 419 (1995).  The Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct also address the district attorney’s discovery obligations.  The rules call for timely disclosure of all known information that tends to negate guilt or mitigate the offense.  

In practicality – this information generally includes:

  • evidence favorable to the accused;
  • any tangible relevant documents, photographs, or fingerprints;
  • any recording of electronic surveillance that is relevant to the matter;
  • the results of any scientific tests, expert opinions;
  • any written or oral inculpatory statement and the name of the person who made it

The types of information covered under Brady depend on the facts of the particular case.  To ascertain what information is discoverable in your criminal matter, contact The Law Office of Mark D. Copoulos.