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senate Bill S. 1380

Should Judges Start Cases by Reminding Prosecutors of Their Evidence Disclosure Obligations?

Argument in favor

While many federal courts have already issued their own rules governing Brady procedures, not all courts have done so. Thus, not all defendants enjoy equal protection of their constitutional right to access exculpatory evidence. By ordering courts to issue their own rules on Brady order parameters, this bill would help protect defendants' rights.

Argument opposed

Prosecutors are perfectly aware of their evidence disclosure obligations under Brady, so there’s no need to remind them of this requirement. If the goal is truly to enforce prosecutors’ disclosure of exculpatory evidence to the defense, then punishment is needed for Brady violations when they’re committed.

bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The house has not voted
  • The senate has not voted
      senate Committees
      Committee on the Judiciary
    IntroducedMay 8th, 2019

What is Senate Bill S. 1380?

This bill — the Due Process Protections Act — would reinforce defendants’ constitutional right to access favorable and relevant evidence obtained by federal prosecutors. Specifically, it would require federal judges to issue an order confirming their disclosure obligation under Brady v. Maryland to the prosecution and defense counsel at the start of every case. It’d also require each judicial council in which a district court is located to promulgate a model order that its courts can use at their discretion. Finally, instead of imposing burdensome requirements on prosecutors, it’d leave it to each district court to tailor their Brady order parameters.

Judges are already able to issue “Brady orders” at the start of cases in order to make evidence disclosure requirements a priority for prosecutors and ensure prosecutors can be held accountable for not complying with Brady rules. Many federal courts have already issued specific local rules or standing orders governing Brady procedures. 

When prosecutors fail in their constitutional obligation to share pertinent evidence with the defense, these are known as “Brady violations.”

Impact

Defendants; prosecutors; evidence disclosure requirements for prosecutors; judges; judicial councils in which a district court is located; and Brady v. Maryland.

Cost of Senate Bill S. 1380

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-DepthSen. 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 NoteThe 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.


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / South_agency)


AKA

Due Process Protections Act

Official Title

A bill to amend the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure to remind prosecutors of their obligations under Supreme Court case law.

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