Exculpatory Evidence: Knowing Your Rights

Legally reviewed by:
Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C.
June 28, 2023

When a person has been accused of a crime, there are several types of evidence that can be used to either prove their guilt or innocence. One type of evidence is known as exculpatory evidence, and it involves information that would be favorable to the defendant. It is a Constitutional right for a criminal defendant to have access to exculpatory evidence, even if they do not ask for it.

If you have been accused of a crime, your attorney will seek the best evidence available to help you fight the case and avoid prosecution. While they do not have to request exculpatory evidence held in a defendant’s case, they generally will make a motion to ensure that all evidence that could potentially exonerate you are revealed and considered in your defense.

What Is Exculpatory Evidence?

As noted, exculpatory evidence is information that the prosecution has that would be favorable to your case. This type of evidence can include eyewitness or expert witness testimony, surveillance videos, photos, text messages, and emails that help make your argument while disproving at least some of the prosecution’s claims against you. Here is a look at the type of exculpatory evidence your attorney has a right to obtain when defending you.

Types of Exculpatory Evidence That Can Be Present in a Criminal Case

Perhaps the most important type of exculpatory evidence is the type that shows you are not guilty of the crime. For example, if a woman is accused of retail theft, yet surveillance video from the store clearly shows a bearded man taking the item in question, this evidence shows that the woman did not commit the crime. There is also evidence that can show that a crime was not committed. There are certain elements that must be proven by the prosecution in order to obtain a conviction, and if the evidence negates any element of the crime, then a conviction cannot occur.

In some cases, there can also be evidence that can cast doubt on testimony offered by one of the prosecution’s witnesses, such as a written or recorded promise by a prosecutor that a witness will not face criminal penalties for their own actions in exchange for their testimony. Additionally, exculpatory evidence can include information that the court would use to justify a reduction in punishment, such as the defendant being a first-time offender or that they only played a minor role in the crime that was committed.

How Is Exculpatory Evidence Obtained?

Usually, prosecutors understand the ethical obligation of sharing information they have that is favorable to a defendant with the defendant’s attorney. However, because prosecutors tend to look at the evidence in a case through the lens of which evidence will best prove a defendant’s guilt, they often miss details that could help the defendant to disprove guilt. Because of this, many pieces of information that could be useful for the defendant are not received by their attorney until it is too late to incorporate it into their defense strategy. To combat this issue, criminal defense attorneys will take the information provided by their clients in order to learn more about the types of evidence that could be useful to their case. 

A criminal defense attorney will often then conduct an independent investigation of the purported crime in order to see what evidence they can uncover. They will also review the evidence they have obtained through discovery, as these materials often lead to additional information being revealed or uncovered. They can also obtain this evidence through a motion filed in court that compels the prosecution to turn over any additional evidence. These motions usually provide very detailed descriptions of the type of evidence the defense attorney is seeking from the prosecution.

It should be noted that the defendant must show how having a specific piece of evidence will help their case. This can be done by showing that it proves the defendant’s innocence, could reduce their sentence, or could discredit testimony against them.

What Happens if the Prosecution Fails to Turn Over Exculpatory Evidence?

The requirement that prosecutors turn over exculpatory evidence is often referred to as the Brady rule, after a 1963 case entitled Brady v. Maryland, in which a man was convicted of murder and sentenced to death only to have information come out after the sentencing that the prosecutor had failed to share with the defense that the man’s accomplice had already confessed to the murder. The U.S. Supreme Court held in that case that if all the evidence had been presented in court, the jury would have likely come to a different decision and that—because of this—the defendant was denied his Constitutional right to due process.

If the court discovers that a prosecutor has withheld exculpatory evidence, the defendant’s conviction can be reversed, and a new trial can be ordered. Additionally, if the court discovers that the withholding of the evidence was intentional, the prosecutor faces sanctions, which generally involve fines.

To Learn More About How to Protect Your Rights in a Criminal Case, Call RGSG

Individuals who have been accused of crimes are guaranteed through the U.S. Constitution to have the right to due process. One of the many important services that a criminal defense attorney from Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford, P.C. can provide to their clients is the protection of their rights during a criminal case. 

Criminal convictions can have a number of negative outcomes, including the loss of freedom and financial penalties. Let us help you develop a greater understanding of the criminal court process and explain the services we can provide. For a consultation with a skilled criminal defense attorney from RGSG, fill out our contact form or call us at (215) 822-7575.

Legally reviewed by:
Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C.
Pennsylvania Attorney's
June 28, 2023
Established in 1952 by Irwin S. Rubin, Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C. boasts over 65 years of experience serving clients throughout Pennsylvania. Renowned for its commitment to ethical representation, the firm has garnered prestigious accolades, including being named the "Best Law Firm" for its outstanding legal defense work by U.S. News & World Report. Their team of seasoned attorneys, recognized as Pennsylvania Super Lawyers and Rising Stars, brings unparalleled expertise to a wide range of legal matters, ensuring exceptional representation for individuals, families, businesses, and organizations.