A Brady violation occurs when the prosecution fails to disclose evidence that is favorable to the defendant’s case. This evidence can include information that might help prove the defendant’s innocence, impeach the credibility of a witness or reduce the severity of the charges or potential penalties.
In other words, the prosecution is not free to simply pick and choose what information or evidence it turns over to the defense – even if the evidence tends to severely weaken the state’s case. The name “Brady” comes from the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case, Brady v. Maryland, which established this important rule.
Any material evidence that’s withheld
Brady violations are probably a lot more common than anybody knows. Any evidence in the prosecution’s custody that might have reasonably changed the verdict or affected sentencing in a criminal case could be considered a Brady violation. This includes things like:
- Anything, including eyewitness statements or misidentifications in lineups, that tend to suggest that someone other than the accused committed the crime
- Evidence that a witness has made inconsistent statements, whether it’s an expert who adjusted their testimony to be more “prosecution-friendly” or a layperson who simply cannot keep their story straight for some reason
- Information that casts doubt on the integrity of the police investigation or the lab technicians who evaluated the evidence in a case, such as proof that evidence was planted or test results were altered to fit a specific theory of a case
- Evidence that tends to cast doubt on the truthfulness of a witness by showing that they have a motivation to lie, such as a “jailhouse snitch” who trades information for reduced charges
It’s important to note that Brady violations do not have to be deliberate on the prosecution’s part to be considered material and grounds for an appeal. An error is an error, no matter how it occurred. When a defendant believes that the prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence, they can raise a Brady violation question. If a Brady violation is proven, the defendant may potentially have their conviction overturned, receive a new trial or have their sentence reduced.