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A Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruling makes it clear that prosecutors must disclose to defense counsel nearly all evidence in their possession — a potential landmark decision that could greatly enhance fairness in the state’s criminal justice system.
The ruling, in Hopkins v. State, comes eight years after Texas last overhauled its criminal discovery rules. The Michael Morton Act of 2013 mandated the exchange of more information, specifically by requiring prosecutors to turn over to the defense any evidence that is “material to any matter involved in the action.”
In Hopkins, the court clarified the definition of material evidence, holding that the word “material” is synonymous with “relevant.” Therefore, evidence is considered “material” if it might have a persuasive effect on any issue in the case. Prosecutors must assess whether a particular piece of evidence requested by the defense has a logical connection to the facts of the case. If the answer is yes, then the evidence must be given to the criminal defense attorney.
The court was explicit in explaining prosecutors’ discovery obligations under the Morton Act, stating: “On the whole, the [act] broadened criminal discovery for defendants, making disclosure the rule and nondisclosure the exception.” The court added that prosecutors have “a free-standing duty to disclose all ‘exculpatory, impeaching, and mitigating’ evidence to the defense that tends to negate guilt or reduce punishment.”
The Hopkins decision is welcome news for defendants and their attorneys. Prosecutors no longer will be able to hide the ball during the discovery phase of a case. If a defendant requests evidence that is in some way relevant to an issue in the case, and if the evidence is not protected by a privilege (such as the confidential informant privilege), prosecutors must allow the defense to see it before trial.
At The Law Offices of Kevin Collins in San Antonio, we welcome the Court’s clarification of the Texas discovery rules. As criminal defense attorneys, we are aggressive in obtaining disclosure of all evidence in the prosecutor’s possession in order to protect our clients’ rights. If you need a criminal defense lawyer in South Texas, please call 210-598-8629 or contact us online for a consultation.