October 24, 2006

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

 

Secret Evidence Allowed in Criminal Courts Unfair, Says Civil Liberties Group

COLUMBUS, OH -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio today called on the state Supreme Court to revise Ohio’s rules for criminal prosecutions to ensure that persons accused of crimes will have timely access to the evidence against them. Currently, the law permits the state to conceal some evidence, which the ACLU says sets up an unfair system of “trial by ambush.”
 
“Allowing prosecution and defense equal access to all evidence creates a level playing field in courts,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Jeffrey Gamso.  “Under the current system, prosecutors have a huge advantage over the defense because they can investigate and prepare evidence that the other side may not know about until it is presented at trial. The Constitution guarantees that every person is entitled to a fair trial, but such rules greatly decrease the ability for a person accused of a crime to mount a defense.”

The ACLU is urging the Supreme Court to adopt a proposed amendment to Rule 16 of Ohio’s Rules of Criminal Procedures. In a letter submitted today to the Court, the ACLU’s Gamso noted that correcting the fairness imbalance in Ohio criminal courts would help minimize the number of innocent people convicted of crimes and reduce the amount of costly appeals. Evidence shows that if the accused know all of the evidence against them, they are more likely to resolve the matter without a trial saving jurors, judges, court appointed counsel and prosecutors time and money.

The proposed amendment to Rule 16 also takes into account concerns about the potential misuse of disclosed information and provides safeguards to be sure counsel does not abuse the new amendment.

“This rule change is good for the courts, taxpayers and extends equality to all Ohioans in the criminal court system,” said Gamso. “The Ohio Supreme Court should adopt the amendment and restore fairness to the courtroom."

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