Critics target N.C. bill limiting DAs evidence risk

RALEIGH, N.C. — More people will be wrongly convicted if lawmakers decide to ease the pressure on prosecutors to collect and disclose crucial investigative details, critics said Monday.

A 2004 North Carolina law required prosecutors to share everything in their files in all felony cases, a practice called open discovery, so that defense lawyers can learn about police evidence that points to a suspect’s innocence. The law was passed after it came to light that prosecutors withheld evidence documenting the innocence of Alan Gell, who had spent nine years on death row.

A proposal now pending in the General Assembly would continue to hold prosecutors responsible for giving defense attorneys what investigators have given them, but not what police might have withheld.

Other legislation close to passing in the General Assembly would make it a felony or serious misdemeanor for a police officer to omit or misrepresent evidence.

Critics of the proposal to ease prosecutors’ responsibility said at a news conference that defense lawyers aren’t able to go to police and demand to see investigative files, but prosecutors are and should be held accountable.

“This is going to be an out for them not to turn everything over,” said Mark Rabil, co-director of the Innocence and Justice Clinic at Wake Forest University School of Law. “The net result will be more wrongful convictions.”

Read more here.

Additional comments on the proposed legislation by Rabil can be read here and here.