The State’s Failure To Disclose Evidence & Your Rights

When Does the Prosecution’s Failure to Disclose Evidence in a DWI Case Violate a Defendant’s Constitutional Rights?

Even in a routine misdemeanor DWI case, prosecutors must follow certain rules designed to protect the due process rights of the defendant. One such requirement is known as the Brady rule. Named after a U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Brady rule allows a court to order a new trial if the defendant can show the prosecution failed to disclose evidence prior to trial that was both favorable to the defense and material to the case.

Court of Criminal Appeals:

Failure to Disclose Analyst’s Conduct in Unrelated Case Not a Brady Violation

Not every failure to disclose evidence meets the Brady standard. For instance, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) recently held Brady did not apply to a misdemeanor DWI case where a defendant did not learn until after her trial that there were questions surrounding the reliability of the laboratory technician who analyzed her blood-alcohol test. Reversing an intermediate appeals court, the CCA said this information was not “material” to the defendant’s case.

Here is some background on what happened. Following a traffic stop, Houston police arrested the defendant for DWI and obtained a warrant to take a blood sample. The sample was then tested by an analyst with the HPD crime lab. The analysis revealed the defendant’s blood alcohol content was 0.193, more than twice the legal limit in Texas.

Now, nobody disputed the validity of this test result at trial. But after a jury found the defendant guilty of DWI, the defense learned about an issue involving the same HPD analyst’s work in another, unrelated case. Basically, two different samples in this unrelated case got mixed up at the lab. The analyst then signed her name to a report matching the wrong defendant to a particular blood sample.

As the CCA described the situation, the analyst’s supervisor was supposed to check her work. He then tried to blame the analyst for his oversight by suspending her from casework. The supervisor then misled the trial court about his reasons for suspending the analyst.

Again, this all occurred in a case unrelated to the one described above. But the defendant argued that had she known about this incident, she could have used the information to impeach the credibility of the analyst’s testimony at her own trial. The CCA did not see it that way. It held this evidence was not “material” to the defendant’s case, largely because even without the analyst’s report, there was still “overwhelming evidence” of the defendant’s intoxication at the time of her arrest. The arresting officer testified as to the defendant’s unsafe driving before he initiated the traffic stop, as well as multiple “visible” signs of intoxication during the stop itself. And in fact, the defendant admitted to police that she had been drinking. Given all this, the “undisclosed evidence impeaching [the analyst] would not have impeached the testimony describing [the defendant’s] intoxicated state.”

Speak with a Houston DWI Defense Lawyer Today

As the CCA’s decision makes clear, you cannot rely on undisclosed evidence to save you from a potential DWI conviction. That is why you need to be proactive in asserting your rights–such as the right to remain silent–before your case even makes it to trial. If you need advice or representation from a qualified criminal defense attorney, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston or League City today.