Monday, August 01, 2005

Silva v. Brown

No. 04-99000 (7-26-05). Brady material is a constitutional obligation that the state or gov't simply cannot shirk. In this state habeas case, the petitioner received a death sentence for the brutal murder of a victim and various life sentences for offenses against his girlfriend. This was a horrifying set of facts, involving abduction of an unsuspecting couple, torture and murder. Three defendants were involved; the state made a deal with one of them who had informed on the others. The problem was that the cooperating witness had suffered brain damage in a motorcycle accident and had a history of psychiatric problems. The deal struck with him was that he wouldn't have to undergo a psychological or psychiatric evaluation prior to testifying and this provision was kept secret. The issue of competence was never raised nor was the jury told of this secret deal. The district court had found a Brady violation in the material being favorable, and not being turned over. The court though held it was not prejudicial because the cooperator was crossed effectively and the jury acquitted petition of one murder where the only uncorroborated evidence was the cooperator's testimony, and so the jury must have found some buttressing evidence here. The 9th reversed and granted relief. The 9th unequivocally stated that the prosecutor had a constitutional duty to turn over this favorable information, and took the prosecutors to task. The 9th also found that the violation wasn't harmless. The testimony was key, especially about petitioner's "smile" at the account of the murders, and the cooperator was the only testifying witness to the murders. In terms of sentencing, the violation could not be harmless. This opinion contains good language on the obligations of Brady.


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