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‘Open file’ policy prompts new look

A new prosecutor’s “open file” policy opened the door to a new trial for a man convicted of a sex offense.

Michael Thorsen Youssef was convicted in 2006 of two offenses, based on a woman’s accusations that he forced himself on her after a “night of alcohol and narcotic-influenced partying,” according to a new decision from Hanover County Circuit Judge J. Overton Harris.

Defense lawyer Trip Chalkley represented Youssef at trial, where the evidence consisted largely of testimony from the woman and friends in whom she confided after the incident.

Following Youssef’s conviction and sentencing, a new commonwealth’s attorney “ironically – Youssef’s trial counsel,” as Judge Harris put it, was elected in Hanover County. After stints as a prosecutor for the City of Richmond and Hanover County, Chalkley had spent the last 23 years as a defense attorney.

Chalkley instituted an “open file” policy in the prosecutor’s office. Youssef’s new lawyer took a look at the file, and discovered statements the woman made to police about the incident – statements that had not been disclosed to Youssef prior to trial. The commonwealth argued the statements were merely cumulative of slight variations in the woman’s story that were apparent from the testimony of her friends.

The court disagreed, reasoning that there was a big difference between “an informal message between peers” and a “statement given to police under penalty of law.” Youssef was prejudiced by the prosecution’s failure to produce the woman’s prior inconsistent statements to police, and he deserved a new trial, the court ruled March 25 in Commonwealth v. Youssef.

By Deborah Elkins

2 comments

  1. Once again, we see WHY there should be an open file policy for all criminal case discovery in Virginia.

  2. While most of the evidence consisted of testimony from the victim and friends, what about the entry he wrote in his notebook telling his cousin that he had committed this crime?

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