“All discovery that is available and within the possession, custody and control of the prosecutor shall be provided to the defense”
“Discovery” is the term used for items of evidence or items related to evidence in a case. The Court Rule states that discovery includes all “exculpatory information or material” as well as all “relevant material” including documents, statements, reports, names of witnesses, and other records. See R. 5:20-5(b)(1). Some definitions:
- “Exculpatory material” means material “favorable to an accused” juvenile. See Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 87 (1963).
- “Relevant material” means material having “a tendency in reason to prove or disprove any fact of consequence to the determination of the [delinquency] action”—generally a low bar. See N.J.R.E. 401.
In sum, discovery “enables the juvenile and counsel to prepare for all facets” of a case: to understand the State’s charges and how it may plan to support them, and to develop an effective defense or to prove an alternative conclusion, including innocence. See State in the Interest of N.H., 226 N.J. 242, 256 (2016). Accordingly, as stated above, “[a]ll discovery that is available and within the possession, custody and control of the prosecutor shall be provided to the defense.” R. 5:20-5(a).
The obligation to provide discovery falls predominantly on the State—by bringing charges against a juvenile, the State by definition has gathered material relevant to the charges, and has an ongoing duty to investigate—but juveniles or their attorneys have discovery obligations as well. See R. 5:20-5(b)(2). The State’s discovery obligations have been refined or heightened by directives issued by the Attorney General of New Jersey, including a December 2019 directive that requires the State to provide fairly expansive information regarding professional discipline of law enforcement officers who may serve as witnesses in a proceeding against a juvenile. See Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive No. 2019-6 (Dec. 4, 2019), https://www.nj.gov/oag/dcj/agguide/directives/ag-Directive-2019-6.pdf. The Rules of Professional Conduct governing attorneys in New Jersey also impose discovery obligations on State prosecutors. See, e.g., RCP 3.8(d).
The failure to turn over an item of discovery generally will result in its exclusion from the case; but if the State fails to turn over an exculpatory item of evidence, the case may be dismissed or any adjudication subsequently overturned, as happened in the celebrated case of Brady v. Maryland. The State “has an ongoing obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence.” State in the Interest of N.H., 226 N.J. at 254.
Careful review of all discovery and vigorous pursuit of missing discovery when appropriate are essential to effective legal defense. For instance, common items of discovery include police reports and search warrant documents, which often evidence constitutional violations requiring suppression or other remedies advantageous to an accused juvenile, even dismissal. Motions to suppress and dismiss are discussed on the following tab.
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