Berkshire DA’s Office Adopts Brady Policy
The Office of Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington implemented another justice reform initiative this week as part of the office’s ongoing commitment to promoting public trust in law enforcement.
The Office adopted a formal Brady Policy detailing requirements for prosecutors in disclosing potentially exculpatory evidence to defense counsel. Brady Policies are recognized across the nation as a best practice to safeguard the integrity of convictions, prevent false imprisonment, build trust in the justice system, and uphold due process rights.
“I promised the voters that I would work to make Berkshire County a model of fair criminal justice practices. Adopting and following clear prosecution policies are integral to fulfilling that promise,” District Attorney Andrea Harrington said.
“My office appreciates the immense power law enforcement wields over the lives of people throughout our community. This policy will ensure we prosecutors hold ourselves to the highest standards of professional ethics while creating a uniform process across the county, and setting clear expectations with our partners in law enforcement.”
The 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Brady v Maryland is the seminal case requiring prosecutors to turn evidence favorable to the accused over to the defense. Favorable evidence includes information useful for the defense in cross-examining prosecution witnesses including police officers and expert witnesses. The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office historically fulfilled that requirement on a case by case basis but lacked both a formal policy and a procedure for obtaining discoverable evidence from local law enforcement agencies.
The failure to disclose such exculpatory information has resulted in courts overturning convictions and tragic miscarriages of justice locally and nationally. Judging by the case law, prosecutors as opposed to police are responsible for the majority of the violations.
The policy articulates the Office’s “open discovery policy” requiring prosecutors to seek and turn over all requested and required non-privileged information, to resolve any questions in favor of disclosure, subjects prosecutors who fail to comply to discipline, proactively asks law enforcement agencies to provide the office with potential Brady information and creates a Brady review team to review information for disclosure.
The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office is requesting criminal justice agencies to provide findings of dishonesty, bias, racial profiling, malicious harassment, pending criminal charges, or failure to pass proficiency exams for any potential witnesses.
All witnesses identified as requiring a Brady notification are afforded a petition process to remove their names from notifications.
The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office is not expecting the process to unveil the need to issue many new notifications because Berkshire County law enforcement displays a high level of professionalism.
“I thank District Attorney Harrington for taking a collaborative approach and developing a clear process. Even though Brady has been in effect for many years, there was no formal policy in place. This proposal holds true to the conditions set forth by Brady and allows the integrity of the evidentiary aspects of the trial process to be openly maintained,” retired Adams Police Chief Richard Tarsa said.
“This process brings an added level of transparency to professional law enforcement agencies who dedicate themselves to thorough and honest investigations.”
The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office received input on the policy from Berkshire police chiefs, the Massachusetts State Police, and other district attorney’s offices to create a process that upholds high standards of conduct, fulfills police and prosecutor’s legal obligations, and protects witnesses’ privacy.
Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington’s office serves all 32 cities and towns in Berkshire County. The office represents the Commonwealth in more than 7,500 criminal cases per year in Berkshire Superior Court, three district courts, three juvenile courts, Massachusetts Appeals Court, and Supreme Judicial Court. The office works closely with the State Police Detective Unit assigned to the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office, the Berkshire Law Enforcement Task Force, and collaborates with local police departments across the county. A dedicated staff of more than 50 prioritizes public safety, empowering victims and witnesses through services and support, and building a safe community for everyone and especially the most vulnerable.