If signed, AB 885 would be the first of its kind in the Country
SACRAMENTO – Today, Assembly Bill 885, authored by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D – San Francisco) passed off the Assembly floor. This bill, which authorizes courts to instruct a jury when a prosecutor has intentionally concealed evidence of innocence, is the first of its kind in the nation. It now awaits the Governor’s signature.
“I recently met 40-year-old Obie Anthony, who has spent nearly half his life in prison because prosecutors hid evidence that would have pointed to his innocence. A court has now completely exonerated him, but that exoneration has come 17 years too late. We need this bill to stop the few prosecutors whose zeal for convictions lead them to cut corners on justice. We can’t wait decades to free the innocent while the true perpetrators run free,” said Assemblymember Ammiano.
AB 885 is the first of its kind, in the nation, to allow a court to inform a jury when a prosecutor intentionally conceals evidence that may prove the innocence of a defendant. The United States Supreme Court, in Brady v. Maryland, set the standard for prosecutors as officers of the court who have an exclusive obligation to the truth and due process. Yet, despite this obligation, there have been continuous reports of violations, even in high profile cases around our state and nation.
Obie Anthony spent 17 years in state prison for a wrongful conviction. This week, he supported and advocated for AB 885 in the days leading up to the final vote. Anthony’s conviction was overturned in 2011 after a finding that the prosecutor had failed to turn over exculpatory evidence involving his innocence.
“If a law like this had been in effect in 1994 when I was on trial, I may not have been convicted for a crime I did not commit. I wouldn’t have lost 17 years of my life,” said Anthony.
Nationwide, organizations and elected officials are exploring proposals that would hold prosecutors accountable for their duty to uphold the finding of truth and due process. Although AB 885 faced heavy opposition from District Attorneys across the state, California’s elected officials saw it as a proposal to protect innocent defendants and passed it to the Governor on a 45-18 vote.
“I was shocked that so many District Attorneys were personally making calls in opposition to this bill. You would think that they would be supportive of finding the truth in every case, but their opposition makes it look like they more concerned about winning a case than finding out if someone is innocent. I am just glad that Senators and Assemblymembers are willing to stand up to those bad actor DA’s and help innocent people like me earn our freedom back,” said Anthony.
AB 885 was sponsored by the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (CACJ), a statewide association of defense attorneys.
“We faced strong opposition on this bill,” said Scott Sugarman, President of CACJ. “AB 885 merely asks prosecutors to provide information as required by the federal constitution, state statute and ethical duties. This legislation is a decisive victory for justice and will help prevent wrongful convictions.
California Attorneys for Criminal Justice membership includes both attorneys and associated professionals throughout California and in other states. Through its membership, CACJ continues to be the only statewide association of its kind in the country. CACJ works to defend the rights of persons as guaranteed by the United States Constitution, the Constitution of the State of California and other applicable law, preserve due process and equal protection of the law for the benefit of all persons, enhance the ability of its members to discharge their professional responsibilities through educational programs, publications and mutual assistance, and protect and foster the independence of the criminal defense lawyer and to improve the quality of the administration of criminal law.