Hennepin County Attorney taking steps to ensure fairer trials

The Hennepin County Attorney's Office is taking new steps to enhance fairness in the courtroom and boost confidence in the criminal justice system. These measures particularly focus on the credibility of state witnesses including police misconduct and transparency.

County Attorney Mary Moriarty announced new policies and procedures in her office, relating to what is known as "Brady" material. This refers to potentially exculpatory data and other evidence that might be used to impeach a state witness, typically a law enforcement officer. It is a legal requirement set by U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

In the past, defense attorneys have accused prosecutors of withholding records or a history of complaints against officers called to testify.

Moriarty said Wednesday the infrastructure is now in place to do better.

"Fair trials are the bedrock of our criminal legal system," Moriarty said. "If a defendant does not receive a fair trial, a conviction can be overturned."

She stressed that if a witness' credibility is in question, it is essential that those accused of a crime are made aware to ensure fair and just convictions.

Among the changes at the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office are the establishment of a new Division of Professional Standards, additional training, and staff focused exclusively on compliance, and an emphasis on obtaining and sharing thorough law enforcement disciplinary records.

This approach aims to litigate potentially damaging witness information before trial, rather than in front of a jury.

"The data that we have, when officers make mistakes, they're held accountable," added Brooklyn Park Police Chief Mark Bruley. "And in that accountability, it sometimes may show up in court and in trials, I mean, it should be. That brings some credibility to the system."