Often, the State will work with co-defendants to offer them a favorable plea deal to testify against another defendant. But, is the prosecutor required to disclose these deals to the other co-defendants or the jury during the trial? The short answer is found in a 1963 United States Supreme Court case called Brady v. Maryland (373 U.S. 83). The State is required to turn over any evidence that meets four prongs: the evidence must be favorable to the defendant, the defendant must have been unable to obtain the evidence himself, the State must have suppressed the favorable evidence, and, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, there must have been a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would have been different. Williamson v. State, 300 Ga. App. 538 (2009); Brannon v. State, 298 Ga. 601 (2016).
How does this rule apply to statements made by co-defendants in exchange for favorable plea deals? A co-defendant’s statement could become favorable to a defendant if it calls into question a co-defendant’s credibility. In Byrd v. Owen, 272 Ga. 807 (2000), the Georgia Supreme Court found that the prosecutor was obligated to disclose an immunity agreement it made with its main witness, who was the defendant’s partner in drug trafficking. The Court found that the deal should have been disclosed because, if the defense could have discredited the witness’s testimony (and ultimately shown that he had incentive to lie to get a plea deal), there was a substantial likelihood that the outcome of the trial would have been different. Additional Georgia Supreme Court cases like Schofield v. Palmer, 279 Ga. 848 (2005) tell us that because the reliability of a particular witness may be determinative of guilt or innocence, impeachment evidence, including evidence about any deals or agreements between the State and the witness, falls within the Brady rule, which requires the prosecution to disclose favorable evidence that is material either to guilt or to punishment.
All of this means that if you are charged with a serious crime like murder, armed robbery, or drug offenses, and the State is offering a co-defendant a plea deal in exchange for their testimony against you, they are obligated to disclose that deal. You need an experienced attorney to demand that disclosure and to work diligently to prove that witness unreliable. The lawyers at the Law Office of W. Scott Smith are dedicated to their clients and insist on holding the State accountable to the rules. If you find yourself charged with a serious crime and in need of a lawyer to fight for you, call our office at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.