ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – A new level of scrutiny for recurring state witnesses aims to make sure testimony in Orange and Osceola counties is as truthful and reliable as possible.
State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced the new Brady policy Thursday, which includes the creation of a Brady Committee to evaluate witness credibility. The committee will include the director of conviction integrity, the chief investigator, two felony bureau chiefs and the chief assistant state attorney.
The committee will review information and determine whether a state witness should be cleared, placed on a Brady alert list or placed on a Brady exclusion list.
Notice will be given to prosecutors if a witness is on the alert list, and then it will be up to them to proceed with caution or obtain permission if they chose to call the person as a witness. If the person is placed on the exclusion list, they will not be permitted to testify as a state witness.
“It is imperative to our work that we have the utmost confidence in testimony upon which we build our cases,” Ayala said. “My office processes hundreds of thousands of criminal cases every year, and in many instances, prosecutions rely solely on the honest and credible testimony of law enforcement and other personnel who either witness or investigate crimes.”
Ayala's office cited in a news release a recent example of a recurring state witness who was later found to have questionable credentials. That former fingerprint examiner had documented performance issues on his file related to mislabeling of print cards, questionable findings and failure to identify prints of value.
The man's employer never notified the state attorney's office of any of this, and the issue was not discovered until two years later, potentially affecting 2,500 cases that are now under review.
With the announcement of the new policy, the State Attorney's Office is working to determine the best way to effectively manage state witness information with law enforcement agencies. When officers or experts are relieved of duty, under investigation or disciplined, a Brady review could be triggered.
“As prosecutors we are, and should be, held to the highest ethical standards and cannot waiver in our obligations, if we are committed to prosecutorial accountability and if we are seeking to build community trust. We will not minimize or make excuses when recurring witnesses engage in criminal behavior or other misconduct such as dishonesty, deceit, or improper bias,” Ayala said.