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Texas has a strict exculpatory evidence law

Prosecutors in Texas and around the country are required to turn what is known as exculpatory evidence over to criminal defendants and the attorneys representing them. Exculpatory evidence is evidence that would exonerate defendants or help to establish their innocence. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1963 case Brady v. Maryland that prosecutors must turn over material that is pertinent to guilt or innocence before a trial begins, but Texas law goes even further.

The Michael Morton Act, which was signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2013, requires prosecutors in the Lone Star State to turn over all police reports and witness statements even if they are not material to guilt or innocence. The law is named after a man who spent 25 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of killing his wife. Prosecutors who fail to meet their duty to disclose exculpatory evidence can face professional sanctions and even be sent to jail.

Prosecutors also have a duty to turn over impeachment evidence. This is evidence that could be used to raise questions about the credibility of a prosecution witness. Such evidence could include records of prior bad acts or plea offers made to witnesses in exchange for their testimony. Prosecutors are required to turn over exculpatory and impeachment evidence even if it is not admissible in court.

Attorneys in Texas with criminal law experience could explain the Brady Doctrine and point out the Michael Morton Act to individuals accused of committing crimes who feel that the system is stacked against them. They could also scrutinize police records extremely carefully before mounting a defense or entering into plea negotiations. When material handed over during the discovery process appears to exonerate their clients, attorneys could seek to have the charges against them dismissed.

Source: The Texas Tribune, "Perry Signs Michael Morton Act", Brandi Grissom, May 16, 2013

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