The Marshall Project

Why Tennessee Is Challenging the DOJ's Ethics

A clash over evidence that could help defendants has wider implications.

The Justice Department has picked a fight with an obscure ethics agency in Tennessee about how much evidence — called “discovery” — federal prosecutors should have to hand over to defense attorneys there.

It’s the kind of little-noticed move the department makes all the time but could have a lasting impact on the criminal justice system.

The department’s grievance is with an opinion published by the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Responsibility earlier this year announcing that prosecutors have a higher ethical obligation to divulge certain kinds of evidence than what’s legally required of them under the Constitution. That may seem like a nitpicky distinction. But in June, the department’s three U.S. attorneys in Tennessee penned a scathing 10-page letter demanding to appear before the board — a hearing that has now been scheduled for September.

“The DOJ

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