Case In Point, Brady Follies Edition (Updated)(x2)

A serious Brady violation comes to light and for once the judge reaches the right result.  That’s noteworthy enough by itself.

But what’s also noteworthy is Scott Greenfield’s post about it.

What you’ve got here is a prosecutor who may or may not have deliberately suppressed exculpatory evidence.  Under the Brady rule it doesn’t matter which, but for broader due process implications it matters a great deal, a very great deal.  We explained it this way in a post earlier this year:

In other words, the deliberate suppression of exculpatory evidence is always a violation of due process, not because of Brady but because of Mooney.  The inadvertent suppression of exculpatory evidence – what Brady was really addressing – is a violation of due process sometimes.  And sometimes it isn’t. (links to cases added to this quote for convenience, and if you’re interested in this issue you should really read those cases)

But what is also very intriguing about Greenfield’s post about the episode has to do with another quote from the same post:

So it becomes important, then, to differentiate between the inadvertent (Brady) and the deliberate (Mooney) suppression of exculpatory evidence by prosecutors.  Especially when you can actually prove the latter. 

Important or not, though, what you’re liable to run into is not just the reluctance and skepticism of prosecutors and judges (which you are expecting) but a reluctance on the part of defense lawyers as well, a reluctance to distinguish deliberate from inadvertent suppression, owing to an instinctive belief that this will wind up minimizing the seriousness of the inadvertent suppression.

And that belief is not without some merit.

Now, in this current case of Megan Teesdale, Greenfield argues that the prosecutor’s failure was deliberate:

You see, new prosecutors want desperately to win at trial, and pore over every detail, every word, in preparation. They want to make their bones. They want to show their fellow prosecutors that they have the right stuff.  They do not want to lose, and they don’t neglect to read the police reports. Every single one of them. I call bullshit.

I think he’s overstating his case.  First, prosecuting is not like defending at all.  Greenfield is more describing the defense lawyer’s approach than a prosecutor’s.  A prosecutor is never, for example, desperate.  He just expects to win.  A prosecutor is thus much more likely to be sloppy, to not read a police report (even in a case that’s going to trial) than a conscientious defense lawyer is.  In short, it’s more than theoretically possible that Teesdale’s failure was inadvertent and not deliberate.

Beyond Greenfield and me, the judge banished prosecutor Ms. Teesdale from his courtroom, refusing to believe her failure was deliberate, but noting that even if it wasn’t she was guilty of “gross negligence” and could not thereafter be believed.

I think that’s more accurate, but in any case, assuming it wasn’t deliberate, I don’t know that Teesdale should have her entire legal career ruined, as Greenfield suggests.  I think she should probably lose her job as a prosecutor, though.  Maybe a huge showing of contrition would change my mind.  Not that what I think matters, of course.

But the more important distinction here is this:  what if Greenfield conceded that the proof of the “deliberateness” of Teesdale’s failure just wasn’t there.  Would he think that made any difference?

I suspect the answer is no, and I’ll tell you why.  In practice it would hardly ever make any difference.  There are many, many more Brady violations than Mooney violations.  And what’s more, while both are normally difficult and often impossible to prove, even within that narrow range you’re much more likely to get proof of a Brady violation than a Mooney violation.  For lawyers, it’s about what you can prove.

Greenfield again:

But there is a lingering question.  Was Megan Teesdale an outlier, a rogue prosecutor who saw the words that would destroy her case and made the decision, on her own, to deny its existence?  Was she a flaming incompetent prosecutor, the only baby prosecutor not to read the police reports in preparation for trial?  Or is this a reflection of the culture that Marvin Schechter wrote about when the Brady War broke out in New York.

To me, of course, this is a false dichotomy, for reasons I gave earlier.  But my lingering question is whether Greenfield, and the “criminal defense bar” in general, thinks “flaming incompetent” v. “rogue” makes any difference.

Update:  Take a look at this comment from Grennfield’s post:

The prosecutor violated the defendant’s due process right to a fair trial by knowingly presenting false testimony. But the judge should not have dismissed the case.

The Supreme Court had made crystal clear that this type of constitutional violation is subect to Chapman harmless error analysis…Bottom line: The case should not have been dismissed without the consent of the DA.

The commenter appears to be a law student, or maybe a young lawyer.  And maybe a prosecutor type.  In any case, in a later comment, he says this:

Due Process violations by a prosecutor (whether they be of the Brady, Napue or Giglio type)

These comments illustrate the failure to distinguish between deliberate and inadvertent conduct.  The former is not subject to harmless error analysis; the latter is.  The “bottom line” really is this:  conflating Mooney, Pyle and Napue with Brady has the effect of making Brady a limitation on Mooney, as opposed to the extension of Mooney it was meant to be and explicitly declared itself to be.  It limits Mooney by attaching a “materiality” requirement, and opening the “harmless error” vortex door through which all defense arguments disappear into the void, as usual the government’s deliberate use of perjury can then pass. 

But that door was supposed to have been slammed shut permanently almost 80 years ago.  That’s what Mooney and its progeny did, or they no longer mean anything by themselves:  they have been absorbed into the Brady orbit, as if Brady overruled them rather than extending them.

Some court, somewhere, needs to clear this up before the whole system implodes in an orgy of incoherence.  Ugh.

Update 2:  Here’s one particular thing that makes me think the SJ commenter quoted above is a prosecutor type:

If this case had gone to the jury it is possible that the jury would have still convicted the defendant, notwithstanding the victim’s contradictory statements. The jury could have concluded that the victim’s testimony at trial under oath was true, and her unsworn, contradictory pre-trial statement was false. That is a very common phenomenon in domestic violence cases involving recanting victims, although in reverse. There may be many reasons why the victim told the cops the sex was consensual. One reason is because it, in fact, was. But there might be many other reasons why she made that pre-trial statement that have nothing to do with the truth of her trial testimony. That is why we have juries.

Of course, I have said many times that the reason we have juries is that you can’t trust judges to be fair.  But then I have never been a prosecutor.

Never mind.

What is unstated in that commenter’s line of thought, and indeed never seems to enter the prosecutor’s commenter’s mind, is the oft demonstrated reality that sure, the jury might believe this or that – and then turns out to have believed wrongly.  The prosecutor’s instinct is to be very comfortable with “credibility” determinations because overwhelmingly prosecutor’s witnesses are believed.  Defense lawyers, on the other hand, know that without corroborating proof of some kind the opposite is true for them; that is, their witnesses will not be believed.  It’s one of the things that makes the defense lawyer’s job infinitely harder.

Remember commenter GK?  I had written, in relation to the most important case discussed on this blog:

“Of course the main features of this motion were the statements of Ashley Baker and Todd Gaddy, showing that the entire prosecution of Sephora Davis was a law enforcement sponsored frame up job.”

To which GK replied:

Then Ashley Baker and Todd Gaddy should testify in the criminal trial where the jury can determine their credibility

Same thought process as the SJ commenter, and I’m pretty sure GK was/is a prosecutor.  In fact I’m pretty sure of more than that.

But the problem I’m toying with – well, one problem anyway –  is that law enforcement frame-up jobs will invariably be established through documentary proof.  Which isn’t subject to a “credibility” determination, by a jury or any other fact finder.  In other words, to prove a law enforcement frame-up job you’re going to have to show how they did it, and of course they’re not going to tell you.  You’ll have to have something, like the Ashley Baker statement, that shows it beyond question and unalterably.  Once that is done, there is no point in hearing further from witnesses that have already been shown to be liars, or at least unreliable.

It’s an interesting question:  when is witness testimony unproductive in the truth finding process?  Or even counter-productive?  We explored that question here.  And here.

But among lawyers, we might be all by ourselves in our take on it.  Including criminal defense lawyers, who you might think would be on our side.


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Filed under Striking lawyers, wrongful convictions

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