MICHIGAN SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS DEFENDANT’S RIGHT TO DISCOVERY
In every criminal case the Defendant is entitled to discovery from the prosecutor – the production of evidence known to the government related to the case. A recent Supreme Court case has broadened that right by allowing defendants to demand information even if they could have found it another way.
Ever since the 1960s, courts have required prosecutors to provide defendants with any evidence in their possession that might tend to prove defendants not guilty. This requirement has since been expanded to any evidence known to any government actor, including the police who performed the investigation. If that evidence is not provided, the defendant could be entitled to a new trial.
Under the original test set by the Supreme Court, the defendant had to show:
- The evidence tended to prove the defendant’s innocence or discredited witnesses;
- The prosecutor suppressed the evidence, either accidentally or on purpose; and
- The trial’s outcome would likely have been different if the evidence had been produced.
But in 1998 a Michigan Court of Appeals added a fourth element: that the defendant could not have obtained the information through other reasonable means.
Now the Michigan Supreme Court has stepped in to remove that fourth element. A witness in the case at issue had given two statements to police, but had only identified the defendant in one of those statements. While the trial court had granted the defendant a new trial, a court of appeals had held the defendant hadn’t exercised due diligence in obtaining the information, and that the second statement was not favorable to the defendant or likely to change the outcome or the trial.
The Michigan Supreme Court found that the added reasonable diligence requirement put the burden on defendants to scavenge for hits of undisclosed evidence, when the burden should have been on the prosecutor. But at least in this case the Court agreed that the material was not going to change the outcome of the case.
While the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision is good news for future defendants dealing with prosecutors withholding evidence, it did nothing to help the defendant in this case. His request for new trial was denied and his conviction will stand. If you know someone who has been charged with a crime, contact Attorney Peter J. Johnson at 269-982-1100 for a consultation.
Please note:Every case is different, and there may be some aspect of your particular case which may result in an outcome other than is described above.Â This post is not intended as legal advice and may not apply to your particular case. It is always best to contact our office for a consultation if you have been or believe you may be charged with a crime.