Criminal law differs from civil law and popular television legal dramas in at least one critical way: there aren’t supposed to be any surprises in a criminal trial. Prosecutors have an obligation under federal law to turn over all exculpatory evidence in their possession to the defense, and, under several New Jersey state rules, prosecutors must also disclose a significant amount of additional evidence to the defense prior to trial. This evidence is referred to as “discovery.” Sanctions may be imposed on the prosecutor if she or he fails to provide discovery as required by state and federal law. Here’s how a prosecutor’s failure to provide discovery can be a highly effective defense in criminal cases. Our Ocean County criminal defense lawyers regularly employ failure to turn over the discovery to get charges dismissed in courts throughout Ocean County, including in Toms River, Manchester, Jackson, Seaside, Lacey Township, and nearby towns. Call (848) 238-2100 for a free consultation about your criminal charges.
Why Prosecutors Must Provide All Evidence to the Defense in NJ Criminal Cases
United States Supreme Court case law, particularly Brady v. Maryland, requires prosecutors to provide a defendant with all exculpatory evidence in the prosecutor’s control, i.e. all evidence that might raise a reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilt. Failure to provide information in accordance with Brady can be a violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of due process of law, and any such violation may carry with it severe penalties that will be imposed on the prosecutor and the state, discussed further below.
Further, New Jersey Rules of Court 3:13-3 (discovery rules related to indictable offenses) and 7:7-7 (discovery rules in municipal courts) provide that prosecutors and municipal or private prosecutors must provide defendants with discovery at multiple stages of pending criminal proceedings. Discovery must be provided at the time that a pre-indictment plea offer is made (with certain exceptions), it must be provided following an indictment, and it must also be provided in connection with a charged disorderly persons or other criminal offense.
Examples of Discovery that You are Entitled to when Charged with a Crime in NJ
Under the New Jersey court rules discussed above, prosecutors are typically required to provide police reports, charts, graphs, photographs, tests or lab results, video recordings, email records, records of confessions, reports of a defendant’s prior convictions, names of witnesses with relevant information about the charged crimes, and other types of relevant and/or exculpatory information to the defense. These types of discovery are discussed in more detail in the text of New Jersey Rules of Court 3:13-3 and 7:7-7.
New Jersey Prosecutor’s Failure to Provide Discovery as Defense Against Criminal Charges
New Jersey case law applicable to disorderly persons offenses (offenses commonly known as misdemeanors in other states)—particularly the case State v. Holup—provides that a case prosecuted by a municipal prosecutor may be dismissed if a court sets a deadline for production of discovery and the prosecutor fails to provide discovery by that appointed date, even after receiving notice of the deadline. If you are facing an offense prosecuted in municipal court, you and your defense attorney should discuss whether the prosecutor has met all applicable discovery deadlines. A motion to dismiss based on a failure to provide discovery may be a viable defense if the prosecutor has failed to honor her or his obligations.
Turning to indictable offenses—known as felonies in other states—if a prosecutor fails to timely provide you with discovery, the court may order disclosure of that information, grant a continuance so you can review the new discovery and prepare for trial, exclude the evidence from trial, or enter any other order that it deems appropriate. Finally, if you are convicted of a criminal offense and later learn that that the prosecutor withheld exculpatory information from you, you may also be able to obtain a new trial under Brady v. Maryland.
Get Defense Help for Criminal Charges in Lacey Twp and other Ocean County Towns
Overall, failure to provide discovery not only means you may have grounds for an appeal, but it is also one of the best ways to get criminal charges dismissed in New Jersey. To find out more about top defenses for your criminal case and how we use them to help clients in Ocean County courts on a daily basis, contact our local offices in Point Pleasant at (848) 238-2100 or send us a message online.