/ August 1, 2008

Learning to Share is Harder Than it Looks

This week the New York Times reported on the prevalence of evidence sharing that has prosecutors all worked up despite legal requirements to do so. Evidence is a precious material to anyone entering the court room; a key material to bringing justice that can take months or years to dig up and only a matter of minutes to destroy. As a rule, courts require the prosecution to share certain pieces of their evidence with the defense attorneys who in turn may share it with the defendants themselves. While evidence sharing may not necessarily pose a dangerous threat in all cases, prosecutors argue it can and does have a negative affect on the outcome of many trials.

Citing cases involving gangs, drug rings and other organized crimes, prosecutors working on a recent case in the Federal District Court of Manhattan raised a number of concerns to the presiding judge. Although they find no problem in releasing information related to the crime-scene, weapons and other more fact-based materials, the prosecutors on the case were appalled at the request by the defendant to bring the testimonies to his cell for reviewal over the weekend. Evidence known as 3500 materials include statements from witnesses scheduled to appear in court, available for the judge and jury’s viewing so there is no confusion over whether or not the truth is being told. According to one prosecutor on the case, 3500 materials are, “confirmation that someone has cooperated” and insists that it poses a risk for anyone who has agreed to provide testimony.

Another possible threat is the recent decision by the Supreme Court to rule any statements invalid when they have been previously issued by a witness that is now unable to appear in court. By eliminating the validity of missing witnesses and allowing suspects to view all testimony prior to their court appearance, the courts have created a dangerous situation for anyone still willing to come forward. Prosecutors argue that suspects awaiting trial have strong connections on the outside who can easily be called on to interfere with anyone holding incriminating evidence.

Source: New York Times

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