Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
State v. Burgoon, 4 Kan. App. 2d 485, 609 P.2d 194 (1980).
This case addresses the following issue:
When must the prosecution disclose the address of a witness?
This case deals with when the prosecution must disclose information about a wintess beyond a witness’s name. Id. at 487. Particularly, the case dealt with the requirement for pretrial disclosure of such information. Id. Ultimately, the court didn’t set out much of a standard, instead finding that pretrial disclosure of such information must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Id. at 487-88. Under these facts, disclosure of the address was required before the trial and the proper remedy for refusing to disclose the information was suppression of the witness’s testimony. Id. at 490.
The defendant in this case was being charged with two counts of selling marijuana. Id. at 486. The sole witness to each sale was an undercover agent that made each purchase. Id. at 486-87. At a preliminary hearing, the agent testified regarding his real name but refused to provide his address. Id. at 486. After a hearing on the issue, the trial court ordered the information be disclosed. Id. However, the prosecution refused to provide the information, which led the judge to suppress the witness’s testimony. Id. The prosecution appealed both the order and the remedy. Id.
The court noted that discovery issues are not overturned absent an abuse of discretion. Id. The trial court in this case found that disclosure was appropriate, and the court of appeals could not disagree, relying on two major principles. Id. at 487. First, the “constitutional right to discover evidence that is favorable to the accused and is material to his guilt or innocence.” Id. Second, the prosecution is required to disclose the names of all witnesses pursuant to Section 22-3201, a Kansas statute. Id. Taking these two together, the court found that a name, without an address or information regarding where the witness is from, does not serve the purpose of these two requirements. Id.
However, the court reaffirmed that discretion is the standard, not required disclosure. Id. Instead, the trial court should utilize the balancing test laid out by the United States Supreme Court in Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53 (1957). Id. That test looked to several factors, including but not limited to, “the crime charged, the possible defenses, [and] the possible significance of the informer’s testimony.” Id. This balancing test, when applied to facts such as these—a key witness, whose true identity was completely unknown to the defendant—the court “must at the very least permit a sufficient disclosure of the witness’s background” to allow for an investigation by the defendant. Id. at 488.
Having found disclosure was required, the court also looked at the remedy the trial court had imposed—suppressing the testimony of the witness altogether. Id. at 489. The court again noted great discretion was granted to the trial court in fashioning a remedy. Id. Suppression, however, is reserved the worst of offenses and requires both intentional action and prejudice upon the opposing party. Id. at 490. The court found these circumstances existed in the present case, and approved of the suppression. Id.