Amid all the hoopla about the state budget, Louisiana lawmakers passed a landmark change in the state’s criminal code this year. The new law requires “open discovery” in criminal cases. And that’s the topic of this week’s Commentary by Eyewitness News Political Analyst and Gambit columnist Clancy DuBos.
Clancy DuBos / Eyewitness News Political Analyst
NEW ORLEANS -- For decades, the law has required criminal prosecutors to turn over all evidence that favors defendants. In many places, prosecutors just handed over all their evidence to defense lawyers. That practice is called “open discovery” — and it’s a very good practice.
But in some places, including New Orleans, over-zealous prosecutors withheld favorable evidence. When that evidence came to light later, it led to appeals and lawsuits — and millions of dollars in costs to taxpayers. It’s easy to see that letting prosecutors decide what’s favorable to defendants is like letting the fox guard the hen house.
Now, thankfully, open discovery is the law in Louisiana. A group of prosecutors and defense lawyers worked together to support changes in the law that both sides could live with. Lawmakers and Gov. Bobby Jindal supported the change.
Of course, prosecutors still have to follow the new law by turning over all witness statements, as well as police and expert reports. Ultimately, open discovery will save prosecutors time, and taxpayers money. More importantly, it will give all of us more confidence in the outcomes — and the fundamental fairness — of criminal trials in Louisiana.
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