DEMS platforms can help prosecutors comply with the Michael Morton Act and ensure proper discovery processes.

The Michael Morton Act: Texas Discovery Laws and How DEMS Can Help 

From the earliest courtrooms of the United States, the American people have worked to create structures that best support the right to a fair trial. Landmark rulings like Brady v. Maryland (1963) have mandated prosecutors to meticulously handle evidence and disclose all exculpatory evidence they possess to defense teams. 

In recent years, prosecutors and courtroom officials have been actively considering the legal process and striving to deliver justice effectively. One notable shift in this direction occurred in 2013 with the implementation of the Michael Morton Act, which aimed to improve discovery practices for a fairer legal system. 

In this blog, we’ll explore the statewide implications of the Michael Morton Act for Texas prosecutors, alongside the discovery challenges that impact prosecutors nationwide. Additionally, we’ll consider how U.S. prosecutors can leverage advanced digital evidence management systems (DEMS) to open paths of transparency within discovery proceedings. 

Let’s begin. 

History of the Michael Morton Act 

The Michael Morton Act was passed with the aim of reducing wrongful convictions throughout Texas. The act is named after defendant Michael Morton, who was wrongfully sentenced in 1973 to life in prison for the murder of his wife. After Morton’s exoneration in 2011, Governor Rick Perry signed the Michael Morton Act which requires prosecutors to open all of their files to defendants and keep records of the evidence they disclose. 

While prosecutors were already required to release exculpatory evidence (or evidence that might exonerate the defense) to the defense team because of Brady v. Maryland, the Michael Morton Act created an even greater need for detailed discovery audits.  

DEMS platforms can help prosecutors comply with the Michael Morton Act and ensure proper discovery processes.
Michael Morton (second from right) watches as Governor Rick Perry signed the Michael Morton Act, 2013. Dallas Morning News.

Particularly, this need is even more relevant in light of the tremendous amount of digital evidence prosecutors handle within nearly every criminal case they encounter. In fact, a 2021 article from The Guardian reports that 90% of current criminal cases include digital evidence. 

Considering this context, it becomes crucial to explore the statewide implications of the Michael Morton Act for Texas prosecutors and the wider impact of discovery challenges faced by prosecutors across the nation. Moreover, we will delve into how U.S. prosecutors can harness advanced digital evidence management systems (DEMS) to promote transparency in discovery proceedings. 

Texas Prosecutors: The Challenges of Managing Digital Evidence 

Since the 2013 Michael Morton ruling, Texas prosecutors have been required to ensure that they provide defense teams with greater access to evidence gathered by the state. Particularly, this is because Michael Morton was unfairly accused because necessary evidence and information were withheld.  

While many counties in Texas already had existing open file policies before 2013, the Michael Morton Act requires copies of every piece of evidence to be provided to defense attorneys. 

Gerald S. Reamey, Professor at St. Mary’s University School of Law, writes that “The Act goes beyond creation of a mandatory open-file policy for prosecutors. It redistributes the burden of discovery.” 

For prosecution offices already feeling the strain of understaffing and lengthy case backlogs, this has proved challenging. Managing digital evidence, particularly, is added atop other necessary tasks, such as victim tracking, document drafting, billing, form creation, and more.  

Additionally, for many prosecutorial offices, prosecutors are forced to rely on outdated workflows and technology that slow down information sharing. For example, sharing data may likely involve physical banker boxes to transport files among necessary parties, such as law enforcement and defense teams. The time required to facilitate these physical exchanges consumes even more time out of law enforcement and attorneys’ limited availability.  

eDiscovery: Technology’s Potential Solution 

As offices attempt to reconcile slim budgets and equally slim workforces, how can prosecutors manage workflows to further increase transparency in the discovery process? How can offices, simply, do more with less? 

Electronic Discovery processes, often referred to as eDiscovery for short, can help prosecutors easily share digital evidence with necessary parties, accompanied by detailed audit logs. Powered through Digital Evidence Management Systems (DEMS), eDiscovery has the potential to revolutionize prosecutors’ workflows, improve transparency within the discovery process, and increase ease of access to necessary documents for prosecution and defense teams alike.  

Cutting-Edge Features 

Here are some of the features that DEMS platforms, like CivicDocs, can empower prosecutor teams with. Specifically, these features can work to increase efficiency, organize information, and support busy prosecution teams. 

Audit Logs 

Advanced DEMS platforms can generate audit logs with comprehensive records of all actions, activities, and changes made within the system. These audit logs capture crucial information such as user activities, document modifications, and access history, ensuring a thorough and transparent account of every step taken. Particularly, these logs can show when prosecution teams sent discovery materials, when defense teams received materials, and when defense teams opened materials. 

By having access to such detailed logs, prosecutor offices can easily track and verify the actions of their personnel, ensuring accountability and deterring any potential misuse or unauthorized access. These audit logs serve as an invaluable tool in promoting transparency by allowing external stakeholders, including defense attorneys, judges, and the public, to gain insight into the process, ensuring that the prosecutorial system operates fairly and ethically. The transparency fostered by detailed audit logs ultimately strengthens trust in the justice system and promotes a more equitable and accountable legal environment. 

Structured Role Portals 

Structured Role Portals can provide a well-organized framework that allows prosecutor offices to define and assign specific roles and responsibilities to their personnel. By utilizing structured role portals, prosecutor offices can clearly outline the tasks, permissions, and access levels associated with each role, ensuring a streamlined and efficient workflow.  

This structured approach enhances transparency by providing a clear delineation of responsibilities and preventing unauthorized actions or information access. With role-based access control, only authorized individuals can perform specific tasks or access sensitive information, reducing the risk of data breaches or misuse.  

Additionally, prosecutors can easily provide login credentials for necessary parties, such as defense teams and law enforcement agencies. Some defense teams report frustrations with outdated prosecutor platforms with unreliable access, which can at its worst, lead to dismissed cases. In response, structured role portals can make access for defense teams and law enforcement easier, simpler, and more accessible. 

Also, these unique logins allow prosecutor offices to easily manage user-specific access, assigning tasks, sensitive materials, and information on a party-by-party basis. This protects confidential information, while also clarifying user roles, outstanding tasks, and workflows. 

The Michael Morton Act requires defense and prosecutorial teams to share all evidence--whether exculpatory or inculpatory.
Advanced Search Functionality 

Advanced Search Functionality helps prosecutors quickly access the information they need, when they need it. Instead of manually digging through thousands of files, advanced filters help users find information quickly. With the ability to perform advanced searches across vast document repositories, prosecutor offices can save time and resources. With options such as keyword matching, date ranges, document types, and metadata criteria, prosecutor offices can quickly identify and retrieve specific documents or pieces of evidence. 

This ease of access not only aids prosecutors in their own searches but also helps prosecutors locate necessary files to communicate with defense parties. By facilitating easier search for documents, DEMS platforms can help prosecution teams manage evidence internally, while also improving ease of information-sharing with necessary defense team members. 


The Michael Morton Act has greatly impacted prosecution offices, as prosecutors strive to create greater visibility in discovery processes, while also managing heavy caseloads and staffing shortages. With advanced technology, such as DEMS platforms, prosecution offices can implement digital tools to mitigate tedious tasks, clearly audit discovery exchanges, and empower attorneys with organized, easy-to-access filing structures.  

To learn more about CivicEye’s digital evidence management solution, CivicDocs, and how it can revolutionize your office’s vital work, click below. 


To learn more about CivicDocs and schedule a demo, click here.  


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