The Terrible Old Rule that Undermines Conviction Accuracy

Samuel Gross has provided an insightful commentary in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 22 vote (6 to 2) in Turner vs. United States, that affirmed the murder convictions of seven men and reaffirmed “a terrible old rule that has done great harm to the accuracy of criminal trials…”

A professor of law at the University of Michigan and founder and Senior Editor of The National Registry of Exonerations, Gross notes that in half of more than 800 exonerations since 1989 in which people had been wrongly convicted of murder, the prosecution had concealed exculpatory evidence at trial.

Students of the law and of wrongful convictions recognize these instances as Brady violations. In 1964, in Brady v. Maryland, the high court ruled that the government is obligated to disclose evidence that is favorable to the defense if it is “material” to the case. “Materiality” was later further defined as having a “reasonable probability” that the outcome of the trial would have been more favorable to the defendant if the evidence had been disclosed.

But can this rule be accurately applied? Is there a better way that could cure this nation’s “epidemic” of Brady violations? Gross answers both questions in his commentary, “How Concealing Key Evidence Convicts the Innocent.”

One response to “The Terrible Old Rule that Undermines Conviction Accuracy

  1. This has to be approached from both reactive and proactive perspectives. The rest of the country needs to follow CA in making prosecutorial misconduct a felony. Let the punishment include disbarment, jail time and forfeiture of pension to the families of those wrongfully convicted. Establish CIUs in every state in order as a means of checks and balances. These would be effective deterrents in this epidemic plaguing our justice system.

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