WASHINGTON – Five years ago, after a major corruption case imploded because federal prosecutors had improperly concealed evidence, the U.S. Justice Department ordered its lawyers to start turning over more information to criminal defense lawyers. But the rules for what prosecutors must share and when remained almost entirely secret, until now.
USA TODAY obtained copies of the department's internal guidelines under the Freedom of Information Act and is publishing them here.
"I think these policies are actually the right policies," said Timothy O'Toole, one of the chairmen 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."
Without knowing what the rules are, it's impossible to know whether prosecutors are following them, he said.
The policies mostly instruct prosecutors to turn over more information to defense lawyers more quickly — steps lawmakers and some judges had pressed for in the months 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.
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