12 Jul What Does the Term “Exculpatory Evidence” Mean in a California Criminal Defense Case?
Exculpatory evidence is that information discovered, that exonerates a defendant from having been the person who committed the crime. This could also be an alibi, such as verifying that a defendant was seen in a public place with other people, during the time that the crime was committed, such as murder.
Or the defendant was staying in a hotel in another state, too far away from the crime scene to have committed the murder. Better yet, the bartender on duty that night when the defendant stayed there, was found and questioned. He verified that he spent a long time talking with the defendant while he was seated at the bar. This clears the defendant of committing the crime.
Offense versus Defense in a Trial
In a court trial, a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. It is the job of the prosecutor to find irrefutable evidence showing that the defendant committed the murder, for example. Irrefutable evidence typically refers to one or more eyewitnesses, as well as the use of DNA testing of crime scene evidence to prove that the defendant was there during the commission of the crime.
If the prosecutor finds new evidence that shows the defendant was somewhere else at the time of the murder, then the prosecutor must turn that evidence over to the defense attorney and defendant. Should the prosecutor not turn over that evidence, and the defendant is found guilty, that conviction and subsequent sentence can be overturned. The term for the lack of turning over the new evidence can be called a miscarriage of justice.
Brady Material or the Brady Rule
Brady material is the term used for evidence which, when presented into the case, could overturn what was once a surefire conviction. The Brady Rule is the term used for requiring the prosecutor to turn over the evidence to the defense team first. It must be definitive evidence that shows without a doubt that it proves the innocence of the defendant. It cannot be speculative; it must be absolute verified evidence.
Brady v. Maryland (1963)
The Brady v. Maryland case of 1963 concerned a defendant in a criminal trial who was convicted of murder and was to be sent to prison. The prosecutor had information that showed another prisoner, who was an accomplice of Brady’s, had already confessed to the murder.
The prosecutor did not turn over that information to the defense team or the court. Therefore, the jury convicted Brady and gave him the death penalty.
If they had heard the new evidence, then they may have decided differently on the outcome. The suppression of the evidence denied the defendant his due process of law, which goes against the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The Perry Mason Effect
Those in the television audience may remember the Perry Mason series that ran for many years. Perry Mason always got or uncovered the criminal who committed the crime. It was not always the one that was on trial as the defendant.
Somewhere along the way, Perry would figure out that the evidence was not working right, that a witness called for the prosecution, may be the true culprit. Through Perry’s expert questioning of the witness once again, he could finally frazzle the witness to the point where they confess to the crime. His client, the defendant, was now free.
If you have been charged with a crime and need help, call us at once for a consultation. We can help you. 619-234-2300