In a victory for defense attorneys fighting discovery battles with prosecutors, the Supreme Court of Virginia has reversed a sharply split Court of Appeals, expanding the scope of material that the government must turn over to defendants in criminal cases.
In Bly v. Commonwealth, the commonwealth conceded it withheld exculpatory evidence that undermined the trustworthiness of a police informant, but it claimed the failure to disclose caused no prejudice because other evidence was sufficient to convict.
The unanimous Supreme Court held that, when weighing an alleged Brady violation, courts must consider any possible use the defense might make of the non-disclosed information. In this case, the court held, details that tainted the informant might have been used to discredit the entire police investigation.
Corinne Magee, president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said some prosecutors engage in gamesmanship. “Many prosecutors attempt to elicit a plea prior to disclosing the exculpatory evidence, when the line of cases explaining Brady make it clear that the prosecutor’s duty is to disclose the information as soon as it becomes known to the Commonwealth,” she said.
By Peter Vieth