Open Discovery Needed
Wednesday, July 09, 2008 Regina Brett Plain Dealer Columnist
The Holliman family murder trial looks like a bad episode of "Law & Order" - minus the order.
Four members of the Holliman family are on trial for aggravated murder in the stabbing death of a 15-year-old girl.
The defense claimed the prosecution withheld DNA evidence and the name of a witness who supposedly heard the defendants admit involvement. When Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Eileen A. Gallagher forced prosecutors to open their investigative files to the defense, a prosecutor ran to another court to file a motion to stop her. The appeals court ruled for the judge.
Then the prosecutor threw his own staff under a Greyhound. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason told me the issue at hand wasn't about open discovery, but that Assistant County Prosecutor Eleanor Hilow was unprepared.
Now the prosecutors have filed a motion saying the defense had the evidence all along.
Anyone else tired of the drama? You should be. Your tax dollars are paying for it.
These legal shenanigans would end for good if Ohio had open file discovery.
Right now, prosecutors across the state are not required to share police reports, witness statements and other records with defense attorneys. It's time for a fair playing field where both prosecutors and defense attorneys share records.
The federal justice system has open file discovery. So do civil courts in Ohio.
Ian Friedman, president of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, is leading a movement to bring about open discovery in criminal cases. With the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, he has pulled together a handful of prosecutors and defense attorneys to bring about fair discovery.
Why is it so important? Ask Joe D'Ambrosio. He has been sitting on death row for 20 years. An appeals court recently ruled that the Cuyahoga County prosecutors withheld 10 key pieces of evidence that could have changed the verdict.
Not convinced? You will be after reading Broken Duty at www.oacdl.org. The 2005 report by the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers details failure after failure to disclose evidence across the state.
Here are just a few things prosecutors withheld: bank statements in a theft of office case, an audio recording of an alleged drug transaction, eyewitness descriptions of the robber that didn't match the defendant, the $5,000 a witness got paid by a sheriff and prosecutor.
The criminal justice system in Ohio is broken. You can help fix it. We tried once. I asked for your help and you sent 800 letters to the Ohio Supreme Court. Let's try this again.
Friedman is willing to present your letters to the Ohio Supreme Court. Write to:
Susan Carr, executive director
Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
2720 Airport Drive, Suite 100
Columbus OH 43219
Or e-mail her at:
Tell her you want open discovery for everyone.
Tell her that fair discovery will increase the reliability of jury verdicts and the trustworthiness of our justice system.
Tell her the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees all citizens the right to effective counsel.
Tell her that can't be provided without open discovery.
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