Scott Henson writes about possible pending legislative attempts mandating reciprocal discovery in Texas, where presumably both sides, prosecution and defense lawyers, would have to turn over any evidence they have to each other. Instead, he suggests:
The reform needed here isn’t "reciprocal discovery," but simply to mandate that all Texas prosecutors maintain an "open file" policy to let defense counsel view and make copies of any documents they deem relevant to their defense. The system works well where it’s been implemented, and where it hasn’t it’s a source of constant grousing and wasted time for the already clogged courts.
I agree. They are several problems, right off the bat with the idea of reciprocal discovery.
First, in jurisdictions where turning over Brady material is already a problem for the prosecutors, I’m not sure that legislating that they turn over “their whole file” will work either. Don’t get me wrong – I love the idea of it. I’m just pointing out that when the State can’t always be trusted to turn over exculpatory evidence, aren’t we going to have the same problems knowing that they’ve turned over the whole file?
At least it will make the “May I have a copy of the police report?” problem presumably go away.
But secondly, my fear is a spate of criminal defendants having to use the state and federal appeals process complaining that their lawyer didn’t turn over evidence “in a timely fashion” that should have been used in trial – and thus was barred from introducing it. That’s what the “reciprocal” part of reciprocal discovery means. I haven’t seen any proposed legislation, but it will probably include a provision disallowing evidence that was not turned over to the state.
Defendants should have almost no bars on the type of evidence they want to bring in to trial, whether it is exculpatory, mitigating, or really, of any quality. Scott is right. Legislation requiring the State to allow full defense access to the evidence is the only common sense solution.