[THREAD] Rep. Ken Luttrell held an interim study in the Oklahoma House yesterday around #criminaldiscovery and #openrecords laws. Interesting presentations from defense attorneys, the District Attorney's Council, city/municipal attorneys etc. A summary:
Quickly, discovery laws are the process by which DAs and defense counsel share evidence in the case. Open records requests are the process by which attorneys and reporters can get things like dash cam footage from city police departments.
This is a super important part of the criminal justice system that is often overlooked. It leads to a lack of transparency and unfairness in several different regards if discovery laws are not written fairly. Defense counsel relies on the DA to turn over all relevant information
And this information is what they use to defend their client. Often -- usually through electronic/tech failures -- discovery is incomplete. Defense attorneys also use open records requests and sometimes get more complete information from these than from discovery itself.
A theme of the study that emerged is the concept that someone who is facing civil litigation has far wider-reaching tools and abilities than someone defending their client's liberty on a criminal charge. This is a striking comparison.
There are practical reasons for this: State DA's offices are often overburdened, and subjecting them to depositions or interrogatories from opposing counsel would probably be unwieldy. However, there is also confusion in OK law about whether defense counsel can issue subpoenas
for documents/videos etc. from third parties. City and municipality attorneys wanted to strike a balance, but also fairly stated that if open records requests were going to substitute for criminal discovery, they would need appropriations for that due to lack of staff.
Corbin Brewster, Chief Public Defender in Tulsa presented. "The system has to be fair, if it doesn't appear to be fair, then people lose faith in the system," he said. He also shared discovery failures, including withheld documents in missing person cases.
Trent Baggett from the DA's Council/OK DA's Association stood up and essentially said that the law is fine as it is. "People might want things. They might say they need things. But it's not about what you want or need, it's about what the law provides."
Currently, the mandatory date for discovery to be turned over is 10 days before trial. If there is a lot of information to go through, this makes it incredibly difficult and defense counsel will often have to request a continuance to deal with late discovery.
This contributes to trials dragging on, sometimes with people sitting in jail because they cannot afford bail. When asked if 10 days was too short, Baggett refused to give an answer. "15 days? 30 days before trial?" the co-chair asked. Baggett still refused to give an answer.
Baggett also said he would like the legislature to forbid the use of open records requests to "circumvent criminal discovery." Essentially he is saying that the only avenue some attorneys have to get full and complete information to provide a defense should be outlawed.
Discovery laws are one of those boring areas of criminal justice reform that actually make a big difference in the overall administration of justice. The committee seemed, on one hand, interested in changing the laws to make them fairer but also scared off of making changes.