Those accused of criminal actions in Texas have certain rights. Those rights can help them prepare a defense strategy and protect them against abuses of government authority. People generally understand some of their rights but not all of them, which makes sense, as the law is a nuanced and complicated influence and most people don’t devote their lives to studying its intricacies.
For example, many people are unsure of what their right to discovery entails. They may know that defendants can review the state’s evidence against them but may not be able to assess how strong that protection actually is. The right of discovery gives a defense team an opportunity to counter the evidence or provide an explanation for it, which is one of the reasons why seeking professional legal assistance in the wake of an arrest is so important.
The lawyer representing the defendant can submit written requests to the prosecutor to gain access to state records, like police reports. Usually, the focus is on what the prosecutor intends to present in court, but they may need to provide other records as well, including evidence that could help the defendant.
Prior cases have helped set crucial precedent
There is an ethical and legal obligation for prosecutors to provide all evidence during the discovery process, even if it could hurt their case at trial. Obviously, a prosecutor would not present exculpatory evidence during a criminal trial, but they still have to share it with the defense team. Exculpatory evidence helps support the claim that the defendant is innocent or that certain extenuating circumstances mitigate the criminality of the incident. For example, statements by witnesses who saw a bar fight may be a form of exculpatory evidence if they make it clear that the defendant acted in self-defense.
In theory, prosecutors could try to avoid handing over that evidence by raising the claim that they would never present it during a trial. However, the courts in Texas have had to rule on cases where prosecutors have intentionally buried or failed to provide exculpatory evidence to the defense during the discovery process. Those cases ended up decided in favor of the defendants, which has altered how prosecutors in the state operate.
If a defense attorney learns that a prosecutor failed to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence, they could leverage that misconduct to improve the legal case of their client. For these and a host of other reasons, learning more about the rights of criminal defendants and the rules for prosecution in Texas could potentially help someone avoid a conviction or pursue post-conviction relief.