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Why Brady Lists Still Don’t Work

by Douglas Ankney

Lists of discredited police officers whom prosecutors refuse to call as witnesses are known as Brady lists. These lists could play an important role in ensuring the criminal justice system is fair by tracking and exposing police officers who lie or engage in unethical behavior.

Unfortunately, these lists do not exist in every jurisdiction. All across the U.S., there are prosecutors who do not believe it is in their best interest to write down the names of “problematic police witnesses,” especially if the prosecutor is more concerned with the conviction rate than the duty to see justice done.

But even in jurisdictions where Brady lists exist, there are four main obstacles that prevent defendants from exercising their constitutional right to use the information: (1) Investigations concluding that a cop has engaged in misconduct may happen very slowly, if at all; (2) When a crooked cop gets a job in a different jurisdiction, the Brady list doesn’t follow him/her; (3) Police departments block prosecutors’ access to information — sometimes state laws prohibit access; and (4) Often the prosecutors who do obtain credibility-damaging information refuse to turn over the Brady list to defense attorneys.

While Brady lists have the potential to be a tool in the movement to hold the State accountable for the criminal justice system, the solution must also include pressuring the police directly to expose bad cops. 



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