California prosecutors must tell defense attorneys about information that could exonerate their clients, under new ethics rules adopted this month.
Under the title “Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor,” the rule says the defense must be told about evidence or information that can negate guilt or mitigate charges, even if it’s not material evidence in the case. State Bar Executive Director Leah Wilson says that’s because the prosecutor’s role isn’t solely to get a conviction.
“The prosecutor is not trying to win, and I think that’s one of our challenges,” Wilsons says. “The prosecutor is representing the people, and the prosecutor’s goal and charge is to find the truth. The truth may be that the defendant is, in fact, not guilty.”
A previous rule already prohibits suppression of evidence by attorneys. Wilson says the change requires prosecutors to think about proactively presenting information they encounter.
The state Supreme Court approved the rule change this month, expediting it at the request of the bar, after reports that an Orange County district attorney withheld evidence in a 2013 child-abuse trial.
The court is considering about 70 other updates, in the first major overhaul of ethics rules in decades.
Other rules under consideration include a broader ban on attorneys having sex with their clients, and expanding the ability of the state bar to open investigations into discrimination.