What Happens if a Prosecutor Withholds Evidence?
In a criminal trial, there are certain rules about what evidence a prosecutor must turn over to defendants. Under Alabama law, if a defendant submits a written request for certain evidence, the prosecutor must provide that evidence within 14 days. What happens if the prosecutor does not provide the requested evidence? In a recent case out of Mobile County, the Alabama Supreme Court had to decide what the proper sanction was for this issue.
In 2000, George Martin was convicted of murdering his wife. After he was sentenced to death, he filed a motion, arguing that the prosecution had withheld evidence that pointed to his innocence. This evidence included witness statements relating to relevant evidence that could be used to prove his innocence, as well as two anonymous phone calls.
The circuit court granted his motion and ordered that he be given a new trial. He then filed a motion saying that the charges against him should be dismissed because the injury he suffered from the withheld evidence could not be fixed by a new trial. Ultimately, the charges were dismissed, and the State appealed.
The Alabama Supreme Court explained that in order for the charges to be dismissed, the defendant must show that withholding the evidence was intentional and caused harm that could not be undone. The court then ruled that there was not enough evidence to support dismissing the charges. While the defendant did show that two witnesses had died after the first trial, he did not show how this would hurt him at a new trial. There was also a third witness who had suffered some memory loss, but the court reasoned that this would not hurt the defendant because the witness was still available to testify. If the witness testified inconsistently, the defendant could always use his prior testimony to point out those inconsistencies.
The Alabama Supreme Court also pointed out that dismissing the charges altogether was a very extreme sanction. There were various other sanctions that could have been given. Although a trial court has a lot of freedom in deciding what sanctions to give, dismissal of a case should only be granted when less extreme sanctions would not resolve the issue. For those two reasons, the Alabama Supreme Court decided that dismissing the charges was not necessary in this case.
This case shows that courts are willing to uphold the rights of defendants. You are allowed to look at any evidence that the State is going to use against you at trial that will help you in preparation of your defense. If you request such evidence, the prosecutor is required to give it to you. As you can see from this case, there can be severe punishments if the prosecutor does not turn over such evidence.
If you are a criminal defendant, you need an experienced attorney who will hold prosecutors to their duties under the law. Attorney Joseph A. Ingram of INGRAM LAW LLC is the attorney you need to advocate for your rights as a defendant. Call him today at 205-335-2640.