Fifty years ago, in the landmark case Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court laid down a fundamental principle about the duty of prosecutors — to seek justice in fair trials, not merely to win convictions by any means. The court said that due process required prosecutors to disclose to criminal defendants any exculpatory evidence they asked for that was likely to affect a conviction or sentence.
This principle, known as the Brady rule, has been restricted by subsequent rulings of the court and has been severely weakened by a near complete lack of punishment for prosecutors who flout the rule. The court has also declined to require the disclosure of such evidence during negotiations in plea bargains, which account for about 95 percent of cases.
A better approach is to require the opening of prosecutors’ files to defendants, as a general rule. North Carolina adopted open-files reform to make criminal cases more efficient and fair.
North Carolina’s statute requires prosecutors in felony cases, before trial, to make available to the defense the complete files of all law enforcement agencies, investigatory agencies and prosecutors’ offices involved in the investigation of the crimes committed or the prosecution of the defendant. The New York Times
So far Ohio has followed North Carolina’s lead, and other states should as well. So should Congress. The best way to fulfill the promise of Brady is with open-files reform, which addresses the need for full disclosure of evidence that could show a defendant’s innocence.