Reexamining Discovery Rules in NJ and Across the Country

When must prosecutors turn over evidence to defendants in New Jersey?

If you have been charged with a crime, you are entitled to receive certain kinds of evidence and information.  Generally, a defendant has the right to receive evidence held by the prosecution before trial.  This is known as discovery, and the prosecutor’s duty to turn over discovery is ongoing.  In New York and several other states, however, prosecutors are legally allowed to wait until right before trial to turn over witness statements and other key pieces of evidence.  Such late discovery can cripple your ability to defend against the criminal charges against you.  Our Burlington County, New Jersey criminal defense lawyers discuss current discovery rules and why more states are making a move towards open discovery.

Moving Towards Open Discovery

Traditionally, many states have tended towards limited or last minute discovery for defendants.  This leaves the defense without the true ability to contest the charges, and can lead to wrongful convictions.  Even further, the vast majority of criminal defense charges result in guilty pleas.  Defendants across the nation may be pleading guilty to charges that, with complete discovery, they would have defended against.

Recognizing the need for more open discovery laws, New Jersey has taken an innovative stance of requiring that discovery be provided before defendants enter a guilty plea.  The New York State Bar Association has recently thrown its support behind a NY bill that would similarly require complete discovery early in the case.  

The Right to Discovery

The U.S. Constitution does not impose a general duty on the prosecution to disclose evidence, but it requires that the prosecution disclose exculpatory evidence in its control to the defense.  Exculpatory evidence is defined as any evidence that would tend to contradict a defendant’s guilt or support a lesser charge.  

The seminal case of Brady v. Maryland held that it is a violation of due process for the prosecution to fail to disclose evidence that the defense has requested, where the evidence is favorable to the accused, and material to the accused’s guilt or punishment.  If the defense learns of a Brady violation, he or she may receive a new trial if the disclosure is deemed material.  Contact an experienced defense attorney right away for assistance with defending against the charges against you and ensuring you receive the discovery to which you are entitled.