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A lawsuit filed by a wrongfully convicted Michigan man seeks to hold the county, its investigator, and prosecutor liable for intentionally withholding critical exculpatory evidence.
The case involved the conviction of a former state trooper for child molestation of his own step-daughter. Curiously, when it was discovered before trial that the victim's story changed after being confronted with evidence that failed to corroborate her allegations, that evidence was never disclosed. The defense first learned of the changed story during trial.
Disclosure Denied Is Justice Denied
After the conviction, the trooper's attorney did some looking into the changed story and discovered that certain undisclosed records did in fact contain potentially exculpatory evidence. Unfortunately, over the next couple years, the case ping-ponged from trial court to appellate court, to the state supreme court, on post-trial motions and appeals.
Eventually, the case landed back in trial court for a retrial, but the prosecution dismissed the case due to a lack of evidence. Fortunately for the former state trooper, despite losing his job, and going through the process of being convicted of child molestation, he was never sentenced as his attorney filed timely motions with the trial court, which almost immediately overturned the convictions.
The civil case alleges that the investigator and prosecutor intentionally withheld the evidence in order to strengthen their case, thereby violating the civil rights of the defendant.
Although this defendant turned plaintiff may have secured justice, his case highlights a significant issue with how evidence is handled in criminal trials. Prosecutors are tasked with disclosing exculpatory evidence, but how will a defendant ever find out if certain exculpatory evidence isn't disclosed. In this case, it was by chance that certain testimony clued in the defense attorney to the potential for missing evidence.
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