Berkshire District Attorney’s Office adopts Brady policy
Pittsfield — The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office implemented another justice reform initiative this week as part of the office’s ongoing commitment to promoting public trust in law enforcement.
The office adopted a formal Brady policy detailing requirements for prosecutors in disclosing potentially exculpatory evidence to defense counsel. Brady policies are recognized across the nation as a best practice to safeguard the integrity of convictions, prevent false imprisonment, build trust in the justice system and uphold due process rights.
The 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Brady v. Maryland is the seminal case requiring prosecutors to turn evidence favorable to the accused over to the defense. Favorable evidence includes information useful for the defense in cross-examining prosecution witnesses, including police officers and expert witnesses. The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office historically fulfilled that requirement on a case-by-case basis but lacked both a formal policy and a procedure for obtaining discoverable evidence from local law enforcement agencies.
The failure to disclose such exculpatory information has resulted in courts overturning convictions and tragic miscarriages of justice locally and nationally. Judging by the case law, prosecutors as opposed to police are responsible for the majority of the violations.
The policy articulates the office’s “open discovery policy” requiring prosecutors to seek and turn over all requested and required nonprivileged information, to resolve any questions in favor of disclosure, subjects prosecutors who fail to comply to discipline, proactively asks law enforcement agencies to provide the office with potential Brady information, and creates a Brady review team to review information for disclosure.
The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office is requesting criminal justice agencies to provide findings of dishonesty, bias, racial profiling, malicious harassment, pending criminal charges or failure to pass proficiency exams for any potential witnesses.
All witnesses identified as requiring a Brady notification are afforded a petition process to remove their names from notifications.
The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office is not expecting the process to unveil the need to issue many new notifications because Berkshire County law enforcement displays a high level of professionalism.
The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office received input on the policy from Berkshire police chiefs, the Massachusetts State Police, and other district attorney’s offices to create a process that upholds high standards of conduct, fulfills police and prosecutor’s legal obligations and protects witnesses’ privacy.