Articles Posted in Discovery

I have always argued for full and early discovery in court-martial cases.  How can you defend someone when discovery is delayed or held-back.  And how can you make a properly considered judgment on a PTA or not.

“The Right to Evidence of Innocence Before Pleading Guilty,” on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

George Alvarez, a ninth grade, special education student, pleaded guilty to assault of a peace officer in Texas. Four years into his sentence, Alvarez learned that the State had suppressed a video of the incident that proved his actual innocence. Alvarez claimed that the city violated the Brady doctrine by failing to disclose material exculpatory evidence. In rejecting his claim, the Fifth Circuit concluded that “case law from the Supreme Court, this circuit, and other circuits does not affirmatively establish that a constitutional violation occurs when Brady material is not shared during the plea bargaining process.” Given that 95% of convictions are secured through guilty pleas, such an interpretation of Brady means that few defendants are entitled to evidence of their innocence before being convicted.

I, currently, ask for the following as a minimal initial discovery request.

Any and all adverse or negative information contained in the personnel files of any federal or state law enforcement agent who may have worked on this case in any manner.  This includes but is not limited to Any “on-the-job” or field training records, training test score results, evidence of credentials having ever been suspended or revoked.  The defense does not agree that United States v. Henthorn sets the appropriate standard of production on this issue.  In fact some years ago, counsel had a case where the NCIS gave a Henthorn disclosure to the prosecutor that turned out to be substantially and materially false—which surprised the trial counsel at trial.

We can expand the initial request as more information comes to light.  I encourage counsel to review United States v. Roberts, 59 M.J. 323 (C.A.A.F. 2004).

ACCA is back online to the public.

On 27 March the court decided United States v. Ellis, a case in which:

Appellant asserts that the government’s failure to provide a copy of the accident report was a disclosure violation entitling him to relief on appeal. Appellant assigns both constitutional and non-constitutional error. We address both. In so doing, we address when a law enforcement investigation is separate from the investigation into the charged offense under Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742 (1970). We also discuss what constitutes a “specific request” for disclosure under Rule for Courts-Martial [R.C.M.] 701(a), triggering a heightened standard of review.

As we see frequently, texts and messages on cellphones can be important evidence in a case.  Most of the time the MCIO’s merely got the CW to provide a screenshot and otherwise cherry-pick what they want to take as evidence in the beginning.  Of course the cherry-picking is in favor of the CW and they ignore what might be Brady-plus material.  True, I’m starting to see more MCIO’s do a Cellbrite extraction, which is good.

United States v. Pham from the NMCCA teaches us that we need to be precise in what we ask for when we are seeking the CW’s phone.

Here, the CW “voluntarily provided her cell phone, a Samsung Galaxy S-IV, to NCIS for forensic examination. NCIS investigators performed a logical extraction of the phone and returned it to PI the same day. In response to a January 2016 defense discovery request for a copy of the physical extraction” the defense got “a logical extraction performed 11 months earlier.”

All current rape and serious sexual assault cases in England and Wales are to be reviewed “as a matter of urgency” to ensure evidence has been disclosed.

Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders warned the review could see “a number of cases” dropped.

It comes after the collapse of several rape trials because evidence had not been shared with defence lawyers.

[V]iolations of Brady are the most recurring and pervasive of all constitutional procedural violations, with disastrous consequences: innocent people are wrongfully convicted; the reputation of U.S. prosecutors suffer; and the absence of meaningful legal and ethical enforcement and accountability has a corrosive effect on the public’s perception of a justice system that often appears to be arbitrary, unjust, and simply unreliable.

Bennett L. Gershman, Litigating Brady v. Maryland: Games Prosecutors Play, 57 Case W. Res. L. Rev. 13, 15 (2007).

At SimpleJustice blog (a blog worth following) there is a piece about Judge Kopf and a tweet which leads to a discussion of a prosecutors obligation to provide discovery to the defense.

Let me start with some basics and two cases that prosecutors and defense lawyers know (or should know) well. In Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court held that suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused 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. Evidence is “material” if there is a reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceeding would have been different.

Relatedly, in Giglio v. United States, the Supreme Court held that prosecutors must disclose to the defense any “understanding or agreement as to a future prosecution” that the government has made with a material witness. That notion has been expanded to requiring the production of impeachment information of a material character. Specifically, this is thought of as information that either casts a substantial doubt upon the accuracy of any evidence—including witness testimony—the prosecutor intends to rely on to prove an element of any crime charged, or might have a significant bearing on the admissibility of prosecution evidence.

The Virginia legislature has passed SB1563.  There are several provisions which should be adopted in military cases.

D. Whenever the Commonwealth intends to introduce expert opinion testimony at trial, the attorney for the Commonwealth shall notify in writing the accused of the Commonwealth’s intent to present such testimony not later than 14 days before trial, or as otherwise ordered by the court. The notice shall include the witness’s name and contact information, a summary of the witness’s qualifications, the substance of the facts and opinions to which the witness is expected to testify, a summary of the grounds for each opinion, and copies of written reports, if any, prepared by the witness.

There is a reciprocal requirement for the defense.  The new VA rule is consistent with federal practice under Fed. R. Crim. Pro 16(a)(G), and with then Judge D. Vowell (Army) in her court-martial scheduling orders.

There is an excellent post at Volokh Conspiracy.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell: So much at trial can turn on the testimony of a police officer. For a criminal defendant, life and liberty may depend on the ability to impeach the officer’s testimony. The federal constitution, as interpreted by Brady v. Maryland and its progeny, requires prosecutors to disclose to defendants any favorable, material evidence known to the prosecution team, including evidence relating to a witness’s credibility. Much impeachment evidence can be found in a police officer’s personnel file. But in many jurisdictions, a thicket of state laws, local policies, and bare-knuckle political pressure prevents access to the material in these personnel files, despite the federal constitutional requirement to disclose. In the name of protecting police privacy, criminal defendants are denied their due process rights to a fair trial.

Here’s what I ask for in my discovery requests.