Newark, NJ- If you are facing criminal charges in New Jersey or anywhere, the outcome of your case depends on the body of evidence both the prosecution and the defense plan to share with one another, and present to the court. But sometimes evidence that is critical to the accused’s defense is withheld by the prosecution and an individual’s rights are violated. Recently, lawmakers in California passed a new law making it a felony for prosecutors to withhold evidence.
On September 30th, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a new law that will make it a felony for prosecutors to withhold evidence from the defense. Before the law was signed withholding evidence was considered a misdemeanor, according to the Los Angeles Times. The legislation, introduced by Assemblywoman Patty Lopez (D-San Fernando), came in the wake of a scandal that gained national attention and involved Orange County prosecutors.
The case revolved around a man accused of killing his wife and several of her coworkers in their Seal Beach, California workplace over a child custody dispute. While the defendant Scott Dekraai, was being held in the Orange County, jailers arranged to have an informant placed in an adjacent cell with the aim getting Dekraai to incriminate himself.
Prosecutors in Orange County were aware a confidential informant was working on Dekraai’s case but failed to turn over the exculpatory evidence obtained by the informant. In 2015, Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals ruled that District Attorney’s Office violated Dekraai’s right to due process, and took the case away from their prosecutors. The DA’s office went through staffing shake-ups, but there was no finding of prosecutorial misconduct.
Assemblywoman Lopez said that Dekraai’s case was not the direct impetus for the legislation, but it was part of the debate on the Assembly floor. Lopez told the Los Angeles Times, “I hear so many stories about innocent people across California, and across the country, who have been wrongfully convicted. She said. “I just hope that when people think the rules don’t apply to them, they will think twice before they abuse their power.”
In a criminal case, exculpatory evidence, which is evidence that benefits the defense, is critical to an individual and may dictate the outcome of their case. The accused’s future is at stake, so law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges need to respect their rights. While the vast majority of prosecutors comply with the requirements, just as any profession, there are always exceptions. In the criminal defense setting, when the statre for the accused are so high, any violation is extremely serious. Withholding exculpatory evidence is not a new issue and is not exclusive to California prosecutors; it happens everywhere including New Jersey. It’s critical that law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges take responsibility for their actions considering what is at stake for the accused.
As a criminal defense attorney, it is my duty to make certain your rights are respected, and exculpatory evidence is not being withheld. If you need assistance with your criminal charges in Elizabeth, Jersey City, Newark and the rest of New Jersey call my office at 973-453-2009 and arrange a consultation.