Attorney Eric D. Puryear

Brady v. Maryland and Exculpatory Evidence in Criminal Cases

Puryear Law » Legal Blog » Criminal Law in General » Brady v. Maryland and Exculpatory Evidence in Criminal Cases

In the United States Supreme Court case of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), the United States Supreme Court held that a prosecutor who suppresses evidence favorable to the criminal defendant upon request violates the defendant’s right to due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good or bad faith of the prosecutor.  This is the law of the land in the entire United States, and applies to prosecutions in every state and also at the Federal level.

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In Brady, the prosecutor failed to provide the defendant with his co-defendant’s confession to murder even though the defendant had requested the co-defendant’s statements. After the defendant’s trial and sentencing, the defendant received notice of these exculpatory statements.

Since Brady was decided, the United States Supreme Court has expanded the ruling. In Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150 (1972), the Court held that exculpatory evidence includes witness impeachment evidence—that is, evidence that can be used to undermine a witness’s credibility. In United States v. Agurs, 427 U.S. 97 (1976), the Court stated that the prosecutor must disclose exculpatory evidence even if the defendant does not request it. In United States v. Bagley, 473 U.S. 667 (1985), the Court held that evidence is material if there is a reasonable probability that the disclosure of the evidence would have produced a different outcome. A reasonable probability means a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome. In Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419 (1995), the Court stated that even if a prosecutor is not personally aware of the exculpatory evidence the State is not relieved of its duty to disclose because what law enforcement has in its possession is imputed to the State. In Strickler v. Greene, 527 U.S. 263 (1999), the Court held that to prevail on a Brady violation claim, the defendant must show the following: (1) the evidence was favorable to exculpation or impeachment; (2) the evidence was either willfully or inadvertently withheld by the prosecution; and (3) the defendant has been prejudiced.

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