Posted on Monday, September 29 at 4:54pm | By Bob Egelko

One of the hardest-fought crime bills of the legislative session, stiffening the laws against prosecutors who withhold evidence that might help the defense, has been vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

AB885 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, applied to cases in which the defense learns, before the end of the trial, that the prosecution has deliberately violated its legal duty to disclose evidence potentially favorable to the defendant. Under current law, the judge might grant a brief delay to allow the defense to look into the evidence, can hold the prosecutor in contempt, and can also mention the lapse to the jury. Ammiano’s bill would have required the judge to tell jurors the evidence was intentionally withheld and that they can consider the non-disclosure as a possible sign that the prosecution was unable to prove its case.

The bill cleared both houses over strong opposition from district attorneys, who said the current law provides adequate sanctions for violations of the rules of discovery, the exchange of evidence that takes place before trial. Brown agreed in his veto message Sunday.

“Prosecutorial misconduct should never be tolerated,” the governor said. But he said AB885 “would be a sharp departure from the current practice that looks to the judiciary to decide how juries should be instructed. Under current law, judges have an array of remedies at their disposal if a discovery violation comes to light during trial.”

Ammiano, whose legislative career is about to end because of term limits, said he was angered by the veto. He cited cases in which innocent defendants have been locked up for many years because prosecutors had withheld evidence.

“We need this bill to stop the few prosecutors whose zeal for convictions lead them to cut corners on justice,” Ammiano said.

Brown also vetoed another bill opposed by police and prosecutors, one that would have required officers to get a warrant from a judge before using drones in a search, except in an emergency. The governor said AB1327 by Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo (Ventura County), was too restrictive.

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