Under the United States Constitution, prosecutors have an obligation to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence — whether it is evidence that is directly favorable to the accused and unfavorable to the government’s case, or evidence that undermines the credibility of the government’s witnesses.
But, as our kind host frequently discusses, there’s a broad gulf between what should happen and what does happen in the criminal justice system. Prosecutors withhold exculpatory evidence all the time, usually without consequence.
Given human nature, the cultural pressures of law enforcement, and the lack of supervision in some prosecutorial agencies, such behavior by “rogue prosecutors” probably doesn’t surprise readers of The Agitator. What might surprise you is that the suppression of exculpatory evidence is sometimes systematic and based on written policy from the highest levels of local government.
Last week the ACLU of Southern California and the firm Bird Marella filed suit seeking to prohibit the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office from enforcing its “Special Directive 10-06,” a policy memo dictating how the office’s hundreds of prosecutors are to treat exculpatory evidence in the tens of thousands of cases the prosecute. You can read it at the ACLU site or here.
The suit alleges that far from assuring compliance with constitutional obligations, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office policy, if followed, violates those obligations. In fact, it purports to require that line prosecutors violate the constitution. For instance: