Criminal trials require fundamental fairness and that only exists when Prosecutors follow the rules requiring them to turn over evidence that is favorable to the defense. This is known as the Brady rule and is foundational to a fair trial. In a recent case, the Prosecution failed to live up to their ethical standards and it nearly cost a man 13 years of his life. Fortunately, he had an experienced lawyer on his side who challenged the Prosecution’s clear violation of law and his conviction was overturned.
People v. Stewart
In this case, the defendant was charged with multiple counts of sexual abuse against his younger cousin. To help prove their case, the Prosecution called a different minor cousin to the stand to testify about similar abuse she suffered by the defendant. By introducing multiple victims, the Prosecution argued that there was a pattern of abuse by the defendant and that both victims should be believed because their testimony was consistent with one another. However, unknown to the defense, the prosecution intentionally withheld information about the second alleged victim which easily would have challenged her credibility and seriously called into question this ‘pattern of abuse.’
Because juvenile records are confidential, only the prosecution has access to these records without a court order. And while the defense was made aware that a police report and follow up investigation existed; the prosecution withheld the contents of the investigation minimizing its importance. The defense made several requests to obtain such information but was denied every time.
Only after the defendant was convicted and sentenced to 13 years, was it revealed that the second alleged victim had made similar, prior and possibly conflicting allegations of sexual abuse against another cousin; that she admitted having engaged in sexual acts with the cousin, who was close in age to her; that she engaged in these acts over a period of three or four years, beginning when she was eight or nine and continued until she was 11; that these included the same acts she was accusing the defendant of perpetrating against her; that both her brother and the cousin told police she had participated willingly; and that her allegations about the earlier abuse were determined to be ‘unfounded.’
To maintain fairness and ensure that innocent people are not convicted, the prosecution is required to turn over all evidence that is favorable to the defense. The court defines ‘favorable evidence’ as that evidence which ‘helps the defense or hurts the prosecution, as by impeaching one of the prosecution’s witnesses.’ Withholding material evidence bearing on the credibility of a key prosecution witness is a denial of due process.
The importance of this witness was obvious as she provided powerful corroboration to the victim. Clearly, had the defense known about prior allegations determined to be unfounded, a competent lawyer would have vigorously cross-examined the witness about her prior false accusations.
For instance, the defense could have challenged her memory of the events; they could have explored whether the two cousins conspired against the defendant; would have questioned the timing of events inquiring why the witness did not mention the abuse earlier; would have explored whether she was confusing events by one cousin with the other; could have challenged the versions based on the degree of similarity and they would have questioned why the versions evolved over time.
Contact a Wallin & Klarich Criminal Defense Attorney Today!
Your right to a fundamentally fair trial is important. Wallin & Klarich’s experienced criminal defense attorneys will do everything they can to fight for you and make sure your rights are protected and ensure that the Prosecution operates within their ethical requirements. With over 40 years of experience defending Southern Californians who have been accused of committing a crime, we are a firm you can trust..
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