RHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE A Practice Manual – Defendant’s Discovery Obligations

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A Practice Manual, 4th Edition
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Defendant’s Discovery Obligations



State v. Burke, 522 A.2d 725 (R.I. 1987). During a rape trial, the defense supplemented its answer to discovery indicating that it would be calling two police officers to offer testimony that contradicted the complainant’s. The trial judge refused to allow these witnesses to testify, citing both Rule 16 and sequestration violations. R.I.S.C. ruled that the trial judge erred in precluding these witnesses but ultimately affirmed the case noting that the error was harmless.

The defense is under no obligation to answer that state’s discovery requests when the proffered testimony is based upon facts not known until trial.“ Since the defense did not know with any degree of certainty, prior to its cross-examination of the complaining witness, specifically what impeachment testimony would be offered, no violation of Rule 16 occurred in the instant case.”
State v. Engram, 479 A.2d 716 (R.I. 1984). Defense counsel waited until the morning of trial to provide supplementary discovery to the state that disclosed his intentions to call three witnesses in support of an alibi defense. As a sanction, the trial judge prohibited the witnesses from testifying. R.I.S.C. affirmed, holding that the sanction was not an abuse of discretion.

The reciprocal nature of Rule 16 obligates the defendant to fully answer the state’s discovery request, including notifying the state of his intention to rely on an alibi and the names and addresses of the corroborating witnesses. Id. at 718.
Defense counsel argued that he had only recently located the intended witnesses. The trial court noted that when presented with such uncertainty, the appropriate action was to initially assert his intention to rely on an alibi and later supplement the additional information. Id. See, e.g., State v. Silva, 374 A.2d 106, 109 (R.I. 1977) (where defendant was in “substantial compliance” with alibi disclosure rule, but failed to disclose certain required details until trial, forbidding defendant to call the witness was an impermissibly “drastic sanction. in a criminal trial where one’s life or personal liberty is at stake.”)
By the court’s reasoning, an eleventh-hour alibi disclosure is presumed to be either fabricated or deliberately withheld. Therefore, the defendant’s right to call the witness does not counterbalance the prejudice to the state, where it is unprepared to rebut the defense or make an appropriate investigation of the alibi.
State v. Vocatura, 922 A.2d 110 (R.I. 2007). Following defense counsel’s deliberate non-disclosure of witness’s testimony, the trial justice excluded portions of the witness’s testimony. R.I.S.C. held that the sanction was not an abuse of discretion.

At trial for felony domestic assault, the defense witness testified that he observed the victim grab defendant’s leg and that defendant then pulled away; this testimony directly contradicted defendant’s discovery responses that witness would testify that he observed no physical contact between defendant and victim.
Because the state had already presented its case-in-chief, the surprise testimony was prejudicial to the state’s case in that it suggested victim’s injuries could have occurred accidentally, a defense that the state was left unprepared to challenge.
State v. Gehrke, 835 A.2d 433 (R.I. 2003). The trial court prevented a witness for the defendant from testifying as a sanction for violation of Rule 16. The only issue on appeal was whether this sanction deprived defendant of his Sixth Amendment right to present witnesses on his behalf. R.I.S.C. upheld the exclusion as an appropriate sanction.

The Sixth Amendment right to compulsory process for obtaining witnesses does not excuse defendant from compliance with discovery requirements. Preclusion of witness testimony for deliberate violations is not precluded.

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