Our Supreme Court decided State v. Brown on February 4, 2019. The case is very significant because it addresses the ongoing issue of the State’s obligation to produce discovery in a timely manner.
The facts surrounding the discovery violation and its ramifications in this case are somewhat complex. Suffice it to say that a week after the start of trial – after jury selection, opening statements and the examination of four State witnesses – the prosecutor produced 18 reports to defense counsel. These reports concerned facts discussed in the testimony of the officers who had already testified. The following week, the prosecutor produced yet another item of discovery. Ultimately, the defendants were convicted of murder, robbery and a weapons offense. The trial court denied their post-trial motions and imposed sentence, and the Appellate Division affirmed their convictions and sentences.
The Supreme Court reversed and ordered a new trial. The Court found, among other things, that the State’s failure to produce the underlying discovery items until after the commencement of trial was a violation of Brady vs. Maryland, which requires the State to turn over exculpatory material prior to trial. The failure to timely provide the discovery at issue to the defense inhibited counsel’s ability to cross-examine witnesses in a meaningful way, to impeach witnesses, and to present exculpatory evidence and evidence of third-party guilt.