COLUMBUS—The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio today called on the Ohio Supreme Court to revise Rule 16 of Ohio’s rules for criminal prosecutions to ensure that persons accused of crime will have timely access to the evidence against them. Currently, the law permits the prosecution to conceal some evidence setting up a system of trial by ambush.

“Allowing prosecution and defense equal access to all evidence creates a level playing field in courts,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Jeffrey Gamso. “Under the current system, prosecutors have a huge advantage over the defense because they can investigate and prepare evidence that the other side may not know about until it is presented at trial.”

Gamso continued, “The Constitution guarantees that every person is entitled to a fair trial, but such rules greatly decrease the ability for a person accused of a crime to mount a defense.”

In his letter to the Supreme Court, Gamso noted that correcting the fairness imbalance in Ohio criminal courts would help minimize the number of innocent people convicted of crimes and reduce the amount of costly appeals. Evidence also shows that if the accused know all of the evidence against them, they are more likely to resolve the matter without a trial saving jurors, judges, court appointed counsel and prosecutors time and money.

The proposed amendment to Rule 16 also takes into account concerns about the potential misuse of disclosed information and provides safeguards to be sure counsel does not abuse the new amendment.

“This rule change is good for the courts, taxpayers and extends equality to all Ohioans in the criminal court system,” concluded Gamso. “The Ohio Supreme Court should adopt the amendment and restore fairness to the courtroom."

The nonprofit, nonpartisan ACLU of Ohio has offices in Cleveland and Cincinnati and community and campus chapters located throughout the state. Due to a recent increase in membership, there are now almost 30,000 ACLU members and supporters in Ohio and more than 500,000 nationwide.

12.14.06 Update from Legal Director Jeff Gamso:

I am sorry to report that the Ohio Supreme Court has refused to proceed with an effort to make criminal trials in this state fair.

Despite your broad and generous support in letters to the court advocating a rule which would have prevented trial by ambush and secret evidence at the same time it would have protected crime victims from threats and harassment, the Ohio Supreme Court apparently voted 4-2 on Tuesday not to modify the existing rules.