Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963).
This case answers the addresses the following issues:
- If the prosecution has information that is unfavorable to their case, and defense counsel requests for disclosure of all evidence uncovered during police investigations, is the prosecution required to give up that information?
- Is there a constitutional violation if a court chooses to retry a case that limits the review only to the punishment and not the guilt?
The first issue in this case includes whether the petitioner was denied his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment when the prosecution suppressed a statement by the petitioner’s companion in which he admitted to committing the same murder that the petitioner was charged for. Id. at 85. This Court noted two previous cases that involved nondisclosure by the prosecutors in regards to using known perjured testimony that adequately described the ruling law. In those cases, this Court noted that nondisclosure by a prosecutor violates due process when the “state has contrived a conviction through the pretense of a trial which in truth is but used as a means of depriving a defendant of liberty through a deliberate deception of court and jury.” Id. at 86. Further, the suppression of evidence that is favorable to the accused was sufficient to constitute a denial of due process. Id. at 87. This Court has also ruled that a denial of due process has occurred even when the State does not solicit false evidence, but allows it to go uncorrected when it appears. Id.
In the present case the petitioner, and a companion were both found guilty of first degree murder at separate trials and sentenced to death. Id. at 84. The defense counsel had requested to examine the extrajudicial statements from the petitioner’s companion in the murder, and the prosecution obliged, however, one statement was withheld in which the companion admitted to committing the actual murder. Id. The petitioner only became aware of this statement after he had been tried, convicted, sentenced, and his conviction had been affirmed. Id. The petitioner subsequently filed for post-conviction relief based on the newly discovered evidence that had been suppressed by the prosecution and was denied by the trial court. Id. at 85. However, the court of appeals held that the “suppression of the evidence by the prosecution denied petitioner due process of law and remanded the case for a retrial on the question of punishment, but not the question of guilt. Id. This Court, after reviewing the previous case law, ruled that the “suppression by the prosecution of 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.” Id. at 87. This Court reasoned that when the prosecution withholds evidence after request, they act as the “architect of a proceeding” which violates the standards of justice. Id. at 87-8. Thus, this Court concluded that the petitioner’s right under the Due Process clause was violated by the actions of the prosecutor, however, this Court still needed to address the remaining issue.
The second issue in this case is whether the petitioner was denied a constitutional right when the court of appeals restricted the new trial only to the question of punishment, not guilt. Id. at 88. The court of appeals stated that it was not in it’s power to put themselves in the place of the jury and assume the jury’s view on the effect of admitting the suppressed confession, however, they concluded that “not without some doubt” the suppression of the confession was prejudicial to the petitioner. Id. The court of appeals stated that even if the suppressed confession had been admitted at trial, nothing in the confession would have reduced the petitioner’s offense below first degree murder, and therefore, there is no reason to retry that issue. Id.
One of the major problems this Court had when addressing this issue included the fact that Maryland law permits the juries in criminal cases to be the judges of law. Id. at 89. However, after analysis of the Maryland decisions, this Court determined that when it is a question of the “admissibility of evidence pertinent to the issue of the innocence or guilt of the accused” the court, not the jury, makes the ultimate decision. Id. at 90. This Court then stated that since the unanimous court of appeals held that the suppressed confession would not have reduced the petitioner’s offense, this was a determination on the admissibility of the confession on the issue of innocence or guilt. Id. This Court then concluded that they could not bring forth judgement as to if a violation of the defendant’s Due Process or Equal Protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment existed because it was not in this Court’s power to raise the question as to if the defendant would have had a “sporting chance” in the ultimate determination of guilt had the use of a bifurcated trial after the now unsuppressed statement been admitted to the trial court. Id. at 90-1.