North Carolina Governor Signs Open Discovery Bill Into Law

North Carolina Governor Mike Easley signed a bill into law that requires prosecutors to share their files in all felony cases. The bill was approved in the wake of allegations that prosecutors withheld evidence in the capital murder trial of Alan Gell, who was later exonerated and freed from death row. The new open discovery statute requires district attorneys to open their investigative files in felony cases to defense lawyers who request such access prior to trial. The law requires DAs to provide such things as police investigator notes, defendant and witness statements, test results and a list of probable witnesses for the trial. In return, defense attorneys will have to provide the state with witness lists and details about the grounds on which they plan to defend their client. Dick Taylor of the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers said the law should "result in less surprise, less ambush and more fair trials." He went on to note, "I think it's one of the most significant developments in our criminal procedure for a number of years." Although, when Easley was the state's attorney general, his staff fought attempts by defense attorneys in capital cases to gain access to prosecutors' files, his spokeswoman stated that Easley has long been in favor of open discovery. (Associated Press, August 4, 2004) See Recent Legislative Activity.