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Let’s see those files

This is a good thing.

Working to make good on a campaign promise, recently elected Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lykos agreed on Monday to provide copies of police offense reports to criminal defense lawyers, changing the longstanding practice of allowing attorneys to only take notes from reports.

One of the most divisive issues in the criminal courthouse, defense lawyers often complain about the hours spent taking notes from a document that prosecutors have instant access to, which can include witness statements, photographs and other evidence prosecutors intend to introduce at trial.

Mark Bennett, president of the Houston’s criminal defense lawyers association, gave Lykos high marks for the change in policy.

“It’s an excellent move forward,” Bennett said.

I have to say, I don’t fully understand why this wasn’t always the case. Seems to me this was a petty policy, one designed to hinder the defense bar more than anything else. Good on Pat Lykos for changing that.

Assistant District Attorney Scott Durfee said the release of the actual document requires additional safeguards. Prosecutors are now marking out information that is private under Texas open records law, including Social Security numbers and Texas driver’s license information.

Defense attorneys also have to sign a confidentiality agreement that mandates that the information can be used only for the case at hand. If they don’t sign the agreement, Durfee said, they can work to get the information though a formal discovery process.

I also don’t quite understand the issue here. I mean, if these documents weren’t redacted before, what was to keep a defense attorney from simply jotting down this sensitive information? I don’t object to having this stuff redarcted first as a general rule, assuming that doesn’t turn into a new kind of diversionary tactic, I just don’t see why that wasn’t always the policy if it’s so important now.

Anyway. For a more detailed discussion of the ins and outs of this practice, see Murray Newman and Mark Bennett. May there be more reforms like this coming from the DA’s office soon.

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