Washington, DC (March 15, 2012) – Leading U.S. Senators today introduced bipartisan legislation to bring about sensible discovery reform in criminal prosecutions. The bill is entitled the "Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act of 2012." Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Senator Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii) are the lead sponsors who introduced the legislation, which can be found here.
In America, if you are accused of a crime, you have the constitutional right to all information in the government's possession that is favorable to your case. That was the ruling nearly fifty years ago in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963).
But as NACDL President Lisa Monet Wayne explained, "The duty to provide favorable evidence has often been misunderstood or ignored. Even well-intentioned prosecutors lack the clear statutory guidance necessary to ensure the full and prompt disclosure to the defense of favorable evidence. That lack of disclosure contributes to unjust and wrongful prosecutions and convictions. This legislation fixes that problem," adding "The 'Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act of 2012' provides clear and meaningful standards governing the prosecution's duty to disclose any and all evidence that could help the accused defend her case. Its passage would represent a giant step forward in improving the fairness and accuracy of our criminal justice system." Today's legislation will empower prosecutors across the country, providing them with clear standards aimed at ensuring compliance with their Brady obligations.
At a Capitol Hill news conference this afternoon reflecting the broad-based support for the legislation, Sen. Murkowski, who was accompanied by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, spoke about the case of the late Sen. Ted Stevens and the need for reform and uniform standard, saying that "Instead of justice being blind, in this case justice was blindly ignored." Rob Cary, a member of NACDL's White Collar Crime Committee and counsel to the late Sen. Stevens, spoke about the value this legislation would bring if enacted, "No amount of reform can guarantee that prosecutors will not lie and cheat as they did in his case, but this legislation today would go a long way towards making it much less likely that it happens in the future." Following Mr. Cary's remarks, NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer explained that "A criminal prosecution is the most awesome use of government power – short of warfare. It is not a game. It is not hunt. It is not sport. It's about justice and fairness. And the Fairness in Disclosure Act will make that principle the law of the land." And Michael Macleod-Ball, Chief of Staff of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office, articulated the ACLU's position on the bill, "We think this bill supports the principle that justice demands and depends on fairness," adding that it "is intended to help ensure that our criminal courts mete out justice and not merely convictions."
In addition to NACDL, the legislation introduced today is supported by the American Bar Association (ABA), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Constitution Project, and the Institute for Legal Reform at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
News outlets across the nation have reported on this critically important issue, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, The Hill, Alaska Dispatch, Houston Chronicle, and the Austin American-Statesman, among many others, with some editorial boards having clearly called for reform in this area.
NACDL has worked for years seeking sensible discovery reform in the context of criminal prosecutions. A link to NACDL's video "America Needs Sensible Discovery Reform," as well as a wealth of materials on the subject, can be found at www.nacdl.org/discoveryreform.
LIVE WEBCAST WITH STEVENS' COUNSEL TOMORROW
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Tomorrow (Friday, March 16) at 2 p.m. ET, NACDL will hold a free, live webcast interview with Stevens' attorney Robert M. Cary, of Williams & Connolly LLP, who will discuss the ramifications of the case and the investigation, and the future of federal discovery reform. Complete information about the webcast will be available later today at www.nacdl.org.
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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.