Under a 1963 Supreme Court case called Brady v. Maryland, prosecutors must tell anyone accused of a crime about all evidence that might help their defense. That includes sharing details about police officers who commit crimes, lie on the job or whose honesty has been called into doubt.
A USA TODAY Network investigation reports that widespread failure by police departments and prosecutors to track problem officers makes it impossible to disclose information to people whose freedom hinges on the integrity of law enforcement. Reporters and the Chicago-based Invisible Institute, spent more than a year gathering “Brady lists” from police and prosecutors in thousands of counties to measure compliance with the ruling.
Thousands of people have faced criminal charges or gone to prison based partly on testimony from law enforcement officers deemed by their bosses or prosecutors to have credibility problems. At least 300 prosecutors’ offices are not taking steps necessary to comply with the Supreme Court mandates.
These places do not have a list tracking dishonest or untrustworthy officers. They include big cities such as Chicago and Little Rock and smaller communities. In many places, police and prosecutors refuse to make the lists public, making it impossible to know whether they are following the law.
The investigation identified 1,200 officers with histories of lying and other serious misconduct who had not been flagged by prosecutors. Of those, 261 were disciplined for dishonesty on the job.
A string of killings by police in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, Chicago and elsewhere have put pressure on cities and mayors to crack down on problem officers. The National Registry of Exonerations says cases overturned because of perjury and official misconduct by prosecutors or police have more than doubled from 2008 to 2018.