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New law mandates Texas prosecutors share evidence with defense
By: Bill Melugin EL PASO, Texas -- A new law that went into effect in Texas this year aims to prevent wrongful convictions.
The Michael Morton Act, named after the man who spent a quarter century in prison for a murder he was eventually exonerated from, formally requires that district and county attorneys open up their files and share evidence with defense attorneys.
In Morton's case, it was found that the prosecutor withheld evidence that could have avoided his wrongful conviction.
El Paso county district attorney Jaime Esparza sat down with KFOX14 to talk about how the law will affect his office.
"I think the new rules are a good idea, we should have open files, we should provide what evidence is favorable to the defendant, we call that Brady material, we think we should provide that to the other side as well," Esparza said. "I never understood why prosecutors would close their files. The ability for defense lawyers to look at our files so they can prepare for trial just makes sense, trying to make it difficult for them to do that just slows the process down."
Esparza told KFOX14 his office has been sharing evidence with defense attorneys through an online portal long before the new law went into effect.
"I'm really proud of the project that we call the portal, it's really the way defense lawyers can look at their files online, so they don't have to come to the office anymore like they used to," Esparza said. "They look at the file in real time, cause the file can change over time, in some cases it doesn't, and in some cases, there will be additional supplements as the case continues, so they see it in real time, and they see basically everything we see."
According to Texas Defender Service/Texas Appleseed, El Paso county and Galveston county were found to have the best "open file policies" in the state of Texas.
Although prosecutors are required to share with the defense, the defense is not required to share with the prosecution.
"It's frustrating," Esparza said. "In very few exceptions does the defense have to show us anything. We've wanted to see the defense lawyer's file, but we haven't gotten that, and I think that would help us go a long way, it would help us quickly get to the issue of whether or not the defendant is guilty of the offense or not."
KFOX14 also spoke with El Paso's county attorney office, who said they use the same portal system as the district attorney.