After a major federal corruption case imploded because prosecutors improperly concealed evidence, the U.S. Justice Department ordered its lawyers to start turning over more information to criminal defense lawyers. The rules for what prosecutors must share and when remained almost entirely secret, until now. USA Today got copies of the department’s internal guidelines under the Freedom of Information Act and is publishing them. “I think these policies are actually the right policies,” said Timothy O’Toole of a National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers panel that has been pushing Congress to enact similar measures. “The biggest problem is that nobody outside the prosecutor’s office actually knows what those policies are.”
The policies instruct prosecutors to turn over more information to defense lawyers more quickly, which lawmakers and some judges had pressed for after the disastrous prosecution of former Alaska senator Ted Stevens. That case collapsed because government lawyers had improperly concealed evidence from Stevens’ lawyers that would have badly damaged the credibility of government witnesses. When USA Today asked for the rules, it took DOJ nearly three years to release the policies from 74 U.S. Attorneys’ offices and the department’s Tax Division. The department still has not provided copies of the rules for 19 other U.S. attorneys’ offices and some of its other branches.