Should Prosecutors Expand, Publicize ‘Brady Lists’?

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Prosecutors around the U.S. keep lists of police officers deemed not trustworthy as witnesses. They often are called do-not-call or Brady lists, a reference to the Supreme Court’s 1963 Brady v. Maryland ruling that prosecutors must turn over to the defense any evidence that might exonerate defendants. These lists have shot into the public eye amid debate over when officers might be added and whether the lists should be made public, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Critics, often police unions, have referred to them by a weightier name: blacklists. At a time when public faith in the justice system is wavering, some jurisdictions are considering expanding and publicizing Brady lists to restore that faith. That has raised a crucial concern: balancing the push for greater accountability with due process and potential reputational harm to the officer.

“A police officer’s value in the criminal justice system is their ability to tell the truth,” says Ronal Serpas of Loyola University New Orleans and former New Orleans police commissioner. “That’s what they should be, a presenter of truth and facts. If they can’t do that, then one of the fundamental building blocks of criminal and civil justice is lost.” Most states keep police disciplinary records from public view. Some states, including New York and, until recently, California, keep police disciplinary records completely private. Activists are pressuring prosecutors to create and expand Brady lists and make them public. California has some of the toughest laws protecting law enforcement privacy. The state supreme court softened one last week, saying law enforcement agencies can alert prosecutors if an officer has a history of misconduct that might affect a case’s outcome. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies union had argued that alerts to prosecutors would violate state law.

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