Why Brady Violations Are Critical To Understanding Steven Avery’s Appeals Case


One of the legal terms brought up time and time again in Making a Murderer Part 2 is a Brady violation. According to Kathleen Zellner, Steven Avery's post-conviction lawyer, the presence of Brady violations could prove her claim that Avery's initial case was mishandled, and that it should therefore be reevaluated. (The Manitowoc County sheriff's department has repeatedly denied allegations that they mishandled evidence, while Dean Strang, one of Avery's original defense lawyers, told Newsweek he and co-counsel Jerry Buting, "really did want fresh eyes to look at all of the issues, including whether we possibly rendered ineffective assistance of counsel.")

That being said, most of us watching the Netflix crime series probably aren't seasoned legal experts, so let's dissect this: what exactly is a Brady violation? According to the Cornell School of Law, the Brady Rule "requires prosecutors to disclose materially exculpatory evidence in the government's possession to the defense. A Brady material or evidence the prosecutor is required to disclose under this rule includes any evidence favorable to the accused — evidence that goes towards negating a defendant's guilt, that would reduce a defendant's potential sentence, or evidence going to the credibility of a witness."

Rolling Stone's explanation offers a more succinct summary, stating that a Brady violation is committed when prosecution withholds evidence that is beneficial to the defense's case. Basically, any time there is a detail or piece of evidence that may have helped the defendant's case, and authorities neglect to share it with the defense team, there is a Brady violation.

"It's a rule that's designed to even the playing field because prosecutors typically of course have all the power in having access to information," Daniel Medwed, a law professor at Northeastern University, told the Post-Crescent. According to the Wisconsin newspaper, Zellner alleges, among other things, that relevant audio recordings were either intentionally lost or destroyed. She also claims in Making A Murderer that there were multiple instances in which police reports that would have been helpful to Avery's case were purposefully never filed. (The Manitowoc County sheriff's department told Bustle they're no longer commenting on Avery's case.)

Medwed says in the same Post-Crescent article that if Zellner can prove one or more Brady violations occurred, Avery would typically get a new trial and an overturned conviction. The outlet further reports that Zellner has accused Ken Kratz, the prosecutor appointed to Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey's cases, of allegedly committing four Brady violations throughout their trials. (Kratz did not immediately return Bustle's request for comment).

Avery, who was convicted for the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach, was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility for parole in 2007. He has remained in prison for the last 11 years, but has been actively trying to overturn his conviction. It's unclear how all of these alleged Brady violations will be addressed, if at all, in court, but Zellner doesn't seem to be leaving any stone unturned as she continues her quest to exonerate Avery.