The Michael Morton Act was passed in response to the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton. Mr. Morton, as has been noted here before, sat in prison for 25 years until his conviction was overturned. He was convicted in large part to prosecutorial misconduct.
Of course Mr. Morton wasn't the first person in Texas who sat in prison for decades as the result of a miscarriage of justice. He became the poster boy for wrongful convictions in large measure because he was white, he was from the suburbs and he was in a management position at the time of his arrest for murdering his wife.
The Michael Morton Act requires prosecutors to turn over all exculpatory evidence to the defense whenever it becomes available. It's the first time that Texas has put teeth into the Supreme Court's proclamation in Brady v. Maryland.
Civil litigation in Texas has long been governed by the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure that mandate complete discovery with the view that if all the facts are made known to all sides, there is a better chance the parties can come to an understanding without the need for trial.
In criminal cases, on the other hand, the defense was long saddled with the burden of not having access to the state's evidence. Forget about all that presumption of innocence crap and that garbage about proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Criminal trial work in most of the state was a glorious game of hide the sausage. Unlike the civil side of the ledger - in which folks were just arguing about money - the state was allowed a monopoly on the evidence.
We didn't allow trial by ambush in the civil courts but it was open season on defendants in the criminal courts.
Now that the state legislature has told prosecutors around the state evidence must be disclosed to the defense, district attorneys around the state have been squawking about how much it will cost the government to provide material to the defense. I, for one, don't give a flying fuck whether district attorneys around the state are wringing their hands about the cost of producing material. The government is the party that's trying to restrict the liberty of its citizenry.
And if we're interested in protecting the due process rights of those accused of criminal acts, then full disclosure on the part of the state is the only way to go. Full disclosure may very well be more expensive that not disclosing, but it can also lead to defense attorneys recommending that their clients enter into plea agreements based on the available evidence. Full disclosure will also reduce the number of appeals and writs based on prosecutorial misconduct. And I think we can all agree that's not a bad thing.
If the cost of producing material is higher than a district attorney thinks he or she can justify then maybe local prosecutors need to think twice about the cases they are filing. Maybe the cost of complying with the Michael Morton Act should be a factor to be considered in whether or not to accept the filing of charges in any given case.