In-Depth: Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) introduced this bill to reinforce defendants’ constitutional right to access favorable and relevant evidence obtained by prosecutors:
“Our Constitution and Supreme Court have long established fundamental, commonsense protections for citizens facing prosecution – including the evidence disclosure obligation outlined in the case, Brady v Maryland. Unfortunately, this obligation is sometimes ignored to the detriment of our entire criminal justice system and inherent notions of fair play. Alaskans are keenly aware of this kind of miscarriage of justice, which was rampant in the high-profile prosecution of the late Senator Ted Stevens, a case that was dismissed following egregious due process violations. Our legislation is flexible and narrowly tailored to ensure that prosecutors abide by their constitutional obligations, and can be held accountable if they do not.”
Original cosponsor Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) adds:
“The Due Process Clause is enshrined in our Constitution as a check against government overreach, but currently there are inadequate safeguards in federal law to ensure that this fundamental constitutional right is protected. Our modest, bipartisan bill would help protect the right of the accused to any exculpatory evidence without placing undue burdens on prosecutors.”
Jessica Jackson, cofounder and national director of #cut50, a national bipartisan initiative dedicated to reforming the criminal justice system, expresses support for this legislation:
“Due process is the cornerstone of fairness in the American justice system—a system that grants the accused certain unwavering rights and protections during legal proceedings. But in many ways, individuals facing prosecution have the deck stacked against them. When key evidence is withheld, or revealed years, sometimes decades after a conviction, it’s a symptom of our system falling short. That needs to change. At #cut50, we work to enact smart, bipartisan measures—like the Due Process Protection Act—that protect people and communities at the same time.”
Of Note: The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution guarantee defendants due process under the law. In the 1963 case Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court clarified that due process includes a requirement that prosecutors disclose all “favorable” evidence that’s “material” to an accused person.
However, despite these requirements, the National Registry of Exonerations reports that prosecutors concealed exculpatory evidence at trial in half of all murder exonerations from 1989-2017. Decarceration Nation notes that this is because there’s no effective mechanism to ensure that prosecutors turn evidence over to the defense.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / South_agency)