Brady v. Maryland was an important Supreme Court case. The case made it illegal for prosecutors to withhold evidence that might help a defendant’s case. If favorable evidence is withheld, a defendant can potentially get their case dismissed.
One cornerstone of our justice system is the Constitutional right to “due process” and a fair, unbiased trial. One way that the courts ensure this is through a process known as discovery. Discovery means that the defense lawyer requests evidence from the prosecution, and the prosecution has to turn it over in full. This allows defendants access to all the evidence that may be relevant to their case.
Historically, prosecutors would sometimes hold back evidence that made the defendant look good, or even proved that they didn’t commit the crime. This led to a weakened defense and a completely unfair trial—and even to wrongful convictions. This practice is no longer allowed, however, because of the famous 1963 Supreme Court case called Brady v. Maryland.
What was the Brady v. Maryland case all about?
Two men, John Leo Brady and Donald Boblit, were arrested for robbery and murder in the 1960s. One of them, Brady, admitted that he had been involved in robbery and knew about the murder, but insisted that he hadn’t actually helped with the killing. The jury apparently did not believe him, as both men were convicted and sentenced accordingly.
It turned out, however, that Brady’s story was true. In fact, Boblit had even given police a written statement confessing the murder—and stating that he acted alone. But this statement was never brought up at trial, because the defense never even new it existed. The prosecution had withheld it.
Brady’s case worked its way through the courts and eventually came to the United States Supreme Court in 1963. In a 7-2 decision, the justices ruled that withholding the statement was unconstitutional because it violated Brady’s right to due process. Brady’s sentencing was overturned and the case was sent back to the original court.
Brady was still guilty of robbery, and his conviction was not completely overturned, but he received a much less severe sentence.
How does the Brady decision help my DUI case?
Ever since that ruling, defense lawyers include a “Brady request” in their discovery requests, asking for any evidence that could potentially be favorable to you (in addition to whatever evidence the prosecutor intends to use against you), and prosecutors must comply. If they do not, it’s known as a Brady violation and your lawyer can file a Brady motion. In some cases, a Brady motion means the charges against you could be dismissed. This means you could go free of DUI (and other charges) altogether.
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