Were you arrested and charged with a serious criminal offense? You are far from alone. Whether you are facing a felony charge or a misdemeanor charge, you have every right to defend yourself in court. All people charged with a crime are presumed innocent until proven guilty. It is the state—meaning the prosecution—that has the burden of proof in a criminal case in North Carolina.
What happens if the prosecution has evidence that you need to prove your innocence? It is your right to access that evidence. Criminal procedure requires prosecutors to turn over all exculpatory evidence. Here, our Monroe criminal defense lawyer explains the key things to understand about Brady motions in North Carolina.
Background: Brady v. Maryland
Brady disclosures come from a 1960s Supreme Court of the United States case called Brady v. Maryland. It is a landmark decision from the nation’s highest court that established the prosecution’s duty to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense.
Here is what happened: In 1963, John Brady and Charles Boblit were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in a Maryland court. During the trial, the prosecution withheld evidence that could have been favorable to the defendants. Specifically, the prosecution failed to disclose a statement made by a co-defendant, which contradicted Brady’s confession and placed more blame on the co-defendant.
Upon review, the Supreme Court overturned the conviction. In doing so, it established the principle that prosecutors must disclose any evidence that is favorable to the accused. Since Brady v. Maryland, prosecutors have been required to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense in all criminal cases. Failure to disclose such evidence can result in sanctions, including the dismissal of charges or the reversal of a conviction.
A Prosecutor in North Carolina Should Disclose Exculpatory Evidence (Legal Requirement)
In North Carolina, prosecutors are required to disclose any exculpatory evidence to the defense. Our state has codified the federal Supreme Court requirements. The regulation is: Rule 3.8 of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct. There are no exceptions: All prosecutors in North Carolina—including in Union County—must comply with the disclosure requirements of Rule 3.8.
The requirements on prosecutors are comprehensive. They do not start on the date of the trial. Instead, a prosecutor must disclose potentially exculpatory evidence from the time charges are filed until the end of the case. To be clear, a prosecutor must disclose exculpatory evidence even if they believe the evidence is not material or will not affect the outcome of the case. Evidence must be disclosed to the defense if any of the following apply:
1. The evidence suggests innocence;
2. The evidence would reduce a potential sentence; or
3. The evidence undermines the credibility of any prosecution witness.
Reality is a More Complicated: A Brady Motion Compels the State to Hand Over Evidence
Although prosecutors have a legal (and ethical) obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence, the reality is often more complicated. It is a sad fact, but it does not always happen. Prosecutors may be reluctant to disclose evidence that could undermine their case. In some cases, prosecutors may not even be aware of the existence of exculpatory evidence, especially if it is in the possession of law enforcement agencies.
Defendants who believe that the prosecution has failed to disclose exculpatory evidence can file a motion for a Brady disclosure. A Brady motion is a request for the prosecution to turn over any evidence that is favorable to the defense. The motion must be supported by specific allegations that the prosecution has failed to disclose evidence that would be favorable to the defense. If the court determines that the evidence is material, the prosecution must disclose it to the defense.
Filing a Brady motion can be a complicated process, and defendants may need the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Even if a Brady motion is successful, it may not result in the dismissal of charges or the reversal of a conviction. However, it can be an important tool for defendants who believe that the prosecution has not disclosed all the evidence to which they are entitled.
Contact Our Monroe, NC Criminal Defense Attorney for Immediate Help
At Plyler, Long & Corigliano, LLP, our North Carolina criminal defense lawyer has the professional expertise that you can trust. If you were arrested and you have any specific questions or concerns about Brady disclosures, we are more than ready to help. Contact us now for a confidential case review. With a legal office in Monroe, we serve communities throughout Union County, including in Indian Trail, Waxhaw, Wesley Chapel, Weddington, Wingate, Unionville, and Marvin.