Brady v. Maryland, 83 S.Ct. 1194
In spring of 1963, in the state of Maryland, petitioner Brady and his companion Boblit were, in separate trials, convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. At his trial, petitioner Brady admitted to participating in the crime, but claimed that his companion did the actual killing. Prior to Brady’s trial, his attorney requested the prosecution allow him to examine extrajudicial statements made by Boblit. Several statements made by the companion were shown to Brady’s attorney except for one statement the prosecution chose to withhold in which Boblit admitted to the actual killing.
In the state of Maryland, juries in criminal cases are the Judges of Law as well as of fact. The crime in question was murder committed in the perpetration of a robbery; which, in the state of Maryland, is punishable by death or life imprisonment, dependent upon the jury’s addition of the words “without capital punishment.” In his summation to the jury, Brady’s attorney accepted the petitioner was guilty of first degree murder and asked only that the jury return the verdict “without capital punishment.” The withheld statement by the prosecution did not come to the petitioner’s notice until after he had been tried, convicted, and sentenced. The Maryland Court of Appeals held that suppression of evidence, Boblit’s statement concerning the actual killing, by the prosecutor denied Brady due process of law, and brought forth the case for a new trial of the question of punishment, but not the question of guilt.
The case of Brady v. Maryland was then taken up with the Supreme Court which raised questions regarding whether the prosecution must turn over evidence favorable to the defense under the Due Process Clause.
It was made clear that the suppression by the prosecution was in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court affirmed the Maryland Court of Appeals holding that the suppression of evidence by the prosecution was in violation of due process; fair treatment through the normal judicial system. It was also affirmed that petitioner was not denied a federal constitutional right when his new trial was restricted to the question of punishment.
The Court found that Brady was treated in an unfair manner, and the rule remains that it is required of the prosecution to turn over all exculpatory evidence to the defendant in a criminal case. The suppression of such evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution.
Reasoning behind the holding:
The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment stands to allow fairness within the judicial system and to ensure individual’s rights are not violated. Because the suppression of evidence by the prosecutor denied due process to the petitioner, the ‘Brady Rule’ was established to require the prosecution to turn over all exculpatory evidence to a defendant in a criminal case.
In the case of Brady v. Maryland, petitioner Brady was denied due process of the law when a statement was withheld from his knowledge and possession until after he was tried, convicted, and sentenced. Though the statement, admitted on behalf of companion Boblit, addressed who did the actual killing, it cannot be assumed what the jury’s views would have been about whether it was or was not Brady’s or Boblit’s hands on the twisted shirt around the neck of the victim.
With the statement admitted by Boblit, it cannot be assumed that the jury would not have placed any significance on this evidence in considering the petitioner’s punishment. Had the statement been before the jury, nothing recited in it could have lessened Brady’s offense to anything less than murder; thus, the Court felt no reason to retry that issue. As such, the petitioner was not denied a federal constitutional right when his new trial, within the Maryland Court of Appeals, was restricted to the question of punishment, and the judgment was affirmed by the Supreme Court.
Where we are today:
The Brady v. Maryland case has taken several turns over the years regarding the subject matter of Discovery. In 2013, in the state of Texas, the Michael Morton Act – Texas Senate Bill 1611 – was passed to ensure a more open ‘discovery’ process. The bill’s open file policy exists to remove barriers from accessing evidence. Whist it remains mandatory that all exculpatory information be turned over to the defendant and his council upon request, no copy of documentation may be given out; the requested materials are only available for review.
Texas Code of Criminal Procedure
- After receiving a request from the defendant, the state shall produce and permit the inspection and the electronic duplication, copying, and photographing, by or on behalf of the defendant, of:
- any offense reports
- any designated documents or papers
- written or recorded statements of the defendant or a witness
- witness statements of law enforcement officers
Of the materials required to be turned over by the state upon request, not included in that list is the work product of counsel for the state in the case and their investigators and their notes or report, or any designated books, accounts, letters, photographs, objects, or tangible things that constitute or contain evidence material to any matter involved in the action and that are in the possession, custody, or control of the state.
The state may provide the defendant electronic duplicates of any document or other information described by this article. The rights granted to the defendant in this article do not extend to written communications between the state and an agent, representative, or employee of the state. This article does not authorize the removal of the documents, items, or information from the possession of the state, and any inspection shall be in the presence of a representative.
- The attorney representing the defendant, an investigator, expert, consulting legal counsel, or agent for the attorney representing the defendant:
- may allow: a defendant, witness, or prospective witness to view the information provided under this article
- may NOT allow: a defendant, witness, or prospective witness to have copies of the information provided, other than a copy of the witness’s own statement
Before allowing a defendant, witness, or prospective witness to view a document or witness statement of another, the person possessing the information shall redact the address, telephone number, driver’s license number, social security number, date of birth, and any bank account or other identifying numbers contained in the document or witness statement.
- The state shall disclose to the defendant any exculpatory, impeachment, or mitigating document, item, or information in the possession, custody, or control of the state that tends to negate the guilt of the defendant or would tend to reduce the punishment for the offense charged
- Before accepting a plea of guilty or nolo contendere (“I do not wish to contend” – a plea where the defendant neither admits nor disputes a charge), or before a trial, each party shall acknowledge in writing or on the record in open court the disclosure, receipt, and list of all documents, items, and information provided to the defendant under this article
 the defendant may not be the agent for the attorney representing the defendant