NBC-2, which has been doing several pieces on the use of video cameras by law enforcement, continues to examine concerns about the practice in SW Florida. They ran a story yesterday that indicates that video surveillance is being used, and not disclosed, in the course of certain investigations. The story told by former prosecutor Stephanie Hoffman in that article was especially troubling: law enforcement did not reveal the use of video cameras until the middle of a trial of a drug dealer. The late disclosure meant not only a discovery violation, but that the prosecutor had to reduce the charge and offer probation instead of the mandatory prison sentence because she was afraid if she had gone forward with the trial, that the case would have been thrown out of court.
NBC-2 spoke to me about the story, so watch for the follow up, tonight. I have the benefit of the perspective of having been on both sides since I was a prosecutor before I was a defense attorney. My take, from either side of the aisle is, if there is video being taken, it should be disclosed. The Supreme Court has made it very clear that the government doesn’t just get to use the good evidence and pretend the bad evidence doesn’t exist. The accused has an absolute right to see evidence that may suggest their innocence, known as “Brady Evidence”.
And if I was a prosecutor, and there was video of narcotics traffic at the house of an accused drug dealer, you’re darn right I’m going to want to know about that evidence, too! All evidence that gets collected needs to be disclosed, otherwise we lose confidence in the fairness of the justice system: which is bad for everyone.