Law enforcement officers have an ethical and legal duty to impartially disclose all evidence in a case. Failing to do so compromises the integrity of the criminal justice system and exposes officers and their agencies to civil liability.
In Brady v. Maryland, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1963 that prosecutors’ suppression of evidence favorable to an accused individual violates due process if the evidence is material to the defendant’s guilt or punishment. While Brady only discussed the prosecution’s obligation to turn over such evidence, subsequent cases have established that peace officers share equally in this obligation.
Failure to comply can jeopardize criminal cases and potentially result in overturned convictions. It also can subject officers and their jurisdictions to civil liability.
In 2010, in Elkins v. Summit County, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals denied qualified immunity for officers who failed to turn over a police report to prosecutors. In that case, plaintiff Clarence Elkins won a judgment after being exonerated of raping and murdering his mother-in-law, Judy Johnson, and assaulting and raping his niece.
While police were investigating the crimes, Earl Mann was arrested in an unrelated robbery. Mann asked the arresting officer, "Why don’t you charge me with the Judy Johnson murder?"
The officer noted this statement in his report, which he forwarded to detectives investigating the case. However, the report was never turned over to the prosecutor. Eventually, Elkins was released, and Mann was convicted.
Training addresses Brady issues: The Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy recently updated its curriculum for Peace Officer Basic Training to cover this requirement. It also addresses it in Legal Update Training sessions offered across the state. For a list of trainings in your area, visit www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov/OPOTACourses and click the "Regional" link.