Prosecutors Must Disclose Witnesses who ID Defendants Before Trial

Unlike what you see on TV, the state cannot just show up at trial and present witnesses and evidence that it has concealed from the defendant. The defendant is legally entitled to be told of  information the state has about things like identifying witness evidence. When the state fails to provide this information, a conviction may be overturned, as was the case in a recent case.

Witness IDs Co-Defendant

The case involved a murder to which there was only one eyewitness, who was prepared to testify that of the two men present at the scene of the crime, and who were co-defendants, she recognizes one co-defendant as not being the murderer (thus implicating the other defendant). The state did not disclose to the defendant before trial that the state had the witness or knew of her testimony.

Maryland law requires that the state disclose to the defendant any evidence of a witness identifying a defendant before trial.

The state argued that because the witness here was not identifying the defendant as the guilty party, but was only ruling out a separate person (the co-defendant) as not being the killer, it had violated no laws in allowing the witness to testify.

Lower Court Upholds Conviction

An appellate court agreed, noting that the law did not apply in situations like this, where identification of someone who was not the defendant combined with other evidence would incriminate the defendant. Had Maryland legislators wanted to include identification of co-defendants in the law they would have, the court reasoned. 

Supreme Court Hears Case

The defendant appealed to the Maryland Supreme Court. The Supreme Court stuck to the exact language of the statute, which only required the state to disclose a witness who had identified “the defendant,” and thus the requirement did not apply to identification of a co-defendant.

However, Maryland does have general requirements that require the state to disclose, before trial, all information which may be relevant to pre-trial identification of a defendant by a witness. This is a much broader requirement, and does not necessarily require a witness saying he or she recognizes a defendant.

For example, a witness who says he “did not see anybody” at the scene of a crime would not be specifically identifying any witness, but it would be evidence that is relevant to whether the defendant was ID’d or not, and would have to be disclosed to the defendant before trial. Evidence that a police officer did not take part in surveillance used to ID a defendant would have to be disclosed.

State had to Disclose Witness Information

Under that rule, the witness’ IDing of the man who was not the shooter amounted to identifying the shooter himself, and thus, the state could not surprise the defendant with this information at trial. Because of the failure to disclose the information, the conviction was overturned and the case was sent back for a new trial.

Maryland criminal procedures provide defendants with rights. Make sure yours are protected.  Contact the attorneys of Brassel Alexander, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your arrest or criminal charges.