Crime & Courts

August 20, 2014

Sedgwick County DA spells out handling of witnesses with potential credibility issues

Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett released a letter outlining how his office deals with potential witnesses in criminal cases, including law enforcement officers, whose credibility might be challenged.

Any law enforcement officer with credibility issues will not be allowed to provide an affidavit used to bring criminal charges, Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said Wednesday.

Bennett said that has been the case for several years now, including under his predecessor, Nola Foulston.

What is new, Bennett said, is that he is spelling it out in writing and sending the information to area law enforcement agencies and media — including The Eagle — which have requested a copy of his letter dealing with so-called Brady/Giglio issues.

Brady/Giglio refers to court findings that prosecutors must provide information to defense attorneys that might help them defend their clients. That information includes past convictions or violations that can be used to challenge an officer’s credibility or truthfulness.

Bennett’s letter, sent out Tuesday and Wednesday, says, “A law enforcement witness with impeachment issues in his or her past, will not be relied upon to provide an affidavit of probable cause.” Authorities use such affidavits as a basis for criminal charges.

Bennett released his letter at a time when media, including The Eagle, are seeking a list of Wichita police officers or Sedgwick County sheriff’s officers who have convictions or violations in their past that could be used by a defense attorney to challenge their credibility. Bennett said he had been drafting the letter before the media inquiries.

His letter spells out that law enforcement agencies must disclose “any impeachment status known about any witness, including law enforcement witnesses, to the prosecution.”

Impeachment evidence is evidence that calls into question a person’s truthfulness, and it applies to any witness, civilians as well as law enforcement officers. Bennett’s examples of impeachment evidence include “a documented internal investigation resulting in discipline and/or a sustained finding relative to an officer’s truthfulness or dishonesty.”

Another area, Bennett wrote, would be “crimes involving an element of deceit, untruthfulness or dishonesty.” An example: a misdemeanor theft or forgery conviction.

It doesn’t mean that an officer with impeachment issues couldn’t be a witness; it means that they would have to go through the vetting process, Bennett said.

The purpose of the vetting, he said, comes down to this: “People charged with a crime need to have all the information they can to defend themselves.” Courts have held that defendants have that right, he said.

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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