Inculpatory Vs. Exculpatory Evidence


Any evidence that is favorable to the defendant in a criminal trial is considered exculpatory. Likewise, any evidence favorable to the prosecution is inculpatory. Although this sounds simple, many attorneys and defendants do not understand the ins and outs. Further, the distinction is important because there are special rules associated with exculpatory evidence. So why is the definition of exculpatory evidence relevant to a criminal trial?

If, during the police investigation preceding trial, a witness was interviewed who claimed that another person, not the defendant, committed the crime, that witness interview is exculpatory evidence.

Another example of exculpatory evidence would be DNA evidence on a knife in a murder case that links another individual to a crime. This type of evidence often confuses prosecutors, because they argue it does not directly exculpate the defendant. But any evidence showing that the defendant is not guilty is considered exculpatory.

One reason for the distinction is that there are special rules regarding exculpatory evidence. For instance, in all states the prosecution is required to inform the defendant of any exculpatory evidence. In many states, any other evidence must be specifically requested, which is difficult when the defendant is not sure what evidence is available to the prosecution. And a request is required to be specific enough so as to identify what the prosecutor has to provide. By requiring prosecutors to supply exculpatory evidence without any request from the defendant, the defendant is certainly given an advantage in discovery.

But there is good reason for this: evidence establishing the innocence of an individual going to trial for a crime should be produced in the name of justice. While a prosecutor wants to win a case, his main goal should always be to seek justice. And evidence that the wrong man is on trial should be produced so that justice can be served.

If exculpatory evidence is not shared with the defense, a case can be dismissed and a mistrial can be claimed.

This information is not intended to be legal advice.

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