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Coinciding with the Special Prosecutors report detailing the inept handling of Senator Ted Steven's trial that was made public today, Senator Murkowski introduced major bi-partisan legislation to discourage or prevent a repeat.
The report pointed out the cases of concealment that took place in the investigation and prosecution of former Alaska Senator Stevens. Lawyer, Henry Schuelke said the actions taken by the prosecution didn’t amount to criminal contempt of court and didn’t recommend charges being brought against the responsible parties.
The legislation today, Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act, is designed to create a standard for disclosure of exculpatory evidence nation-wide. The bill was co-sponsered by Daniel Inouye Democratic Senator from Hawaii, who said of Senator Murkowski and the bill she introduced, “I would like to thank Senator Murkowski for her leadership with the Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act,” Senator Inouye added, “This important piece of legislation will help establish uniform standards for prosecutorial disclosure. It is only fair. Also, I sincerely hope that it will help to resolve a matter that has long injured our late and dear friend, my brother, Ted Stevens.”
The bill would require federal prosecutors to make early disclosure of evidence that demonstrates the innocence of a defendant, and creates a standard for the disclosure of evidence favorable to the defendant – there are currently almost 100 standards used nationwide. It would also make clear that failure to abide by Brady obligations, or the obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense, is a serious breach of the government’s responsibilities and gives judges a broad range of remedies.
Senator Murkowski said of the bill, “While the injustices that were done to Senator Stevens may have provided the impetus for the focus on this important issue, this bill is not about seeking vindication for Ted,” Senator Murkowski told assembled reporters in the Capitol. “It’s about learning the vital lessons from the Justice Department’s failure of his prosecution and making our criminal justice system work the way our Constitution envisioned that it would.”
She went on to say that “What happened in the trial of Senator Stevens is unfortunately not an isolated incident, but most American do not have the wherewithal that he did to push back against prosecutorial misconduct,” Senator Stevens went on to add, “While I do believe most federal prosecutors are adhering to the law, it’s clear the rules in place are not preventing ‘hide the ball’ prosecutions in cases across the country. There are a few prosecutors out there willing to put a finger on the scales of justice to get more convictions – and this bill seeks to stop that. Justice should be blind, not blindly ignored.”
The legislation was also co-sponsered by Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Mark Begich (D-AK) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), as well as has the support of the American Bar Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Constitution Project.
American Bar Association President William T Robinson III said of the Senator and the introduction of this bill, “The American Bar Association commends Senator Murkowski for her leadership in introducing The Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act of 2012,” said Mr. Robinson. “This legislation is an important step towards consistency and fairness in our justice system. There is no reason for the Department of Justice to have 96 different discovery policies rather than one clear policy. A single wrongful conviction is a miscarriage of justice; a history of wrongful convictions because of unclear guidance is an entirely preventable tragedy.”
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers weighed in with Association President Lisa Monet Wayne saying, “The duty to provide favorable evidence has often been misunderstood or ignored. Even well-intentioned prosecutors lack the clear statutory guidance necessary to ensure the full and prompt disclosure to the defense of favorable evidence.” She added, “That lack of disclosure contributes to unjust and wrongful prosecutions and convictions. This legislation fixes that problem. A criminal trial is not a ‘win at all costs’ game. It is and should be about a fair presentation of all the facts. The ‘Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act of 2012’provides clear and meaningful standards governing the prosecution’s duty to disclose any and all evidence that could help the accused defend her case. Its passage would represent a giant step forward in improving the fairness and accuracy of our criminal justice system.”