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The Laurie burden: Rights are not optional

County attorneys say it is too time consuming to make sure criminal defendants know when an officer who testifies against them has a credibility or brutality issue in his or her background. Funny, the Constitution does not say that a citizen’s rights are to be secured if it’s not too much trouble.

Prosecutors are required to disclose exculpatory evidence to criminal defendants. That evidence includes a testifying officer’s past discipline for lying, stealing, police brutality or similar infractions that could call his testimony into question.

This has been the policy of the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office since 2004, when then-Attorney General Peter Heed instructed county attorneys to inform local prosecutors when a testifying officer had such an issue, called a “Laurie” issue after Carl Laurie, who had his first-degree murder conviction overturned by the state Supreme Court because he was not told that the officer in his case had a credibility problem. It also is the law.

Last year legislators amended the statute governing police personnel files to include this sentence: “Exculpatory evidence in a police personnel file of a police officer who is serving as a witness in any criminal case shall be disclosed to the defendant.”

But county attorneys are not doing that with consistency. “That’s not a policy I’ve ever followed,” Strafford County Attorney Thomas Velardi told our reporter Nancy West. Velardi says prosecutors at the district court level will have to call him and ask about each officer in each case. He knows that would be so burdensome that most prosecutors won’t bother.

Disclosing this information is not optional. Attorney General Joe Foster needs to remind all county attorneys of this fact.

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