In an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in the Louisiana case of Juan Smith v. Burl Cain, Warden, 10-8145 the American Bar Association is asking the justices to reaffirm that a prosecutor’s ethical obligations to disclose exculpatory and mitigating evidence before trial are broader than the constitutional standards established for post-trial review of non-disclosure claims under the Court’s 1963 decision in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963).
In Smith vs. Burl Cain, Warden, Juan Smith was convicted of five counts of murder in what UPI referred to as the "Morrison Road" case. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The state trial court, the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal and the state Supreme Court all denied Smith's petition for review. Smith contends that the Louisiana courts disregarded established precedents established by Brady v. Maryland.
According to UPI, on the evening of February 4, 1995, Tangie Thompson, her boyfriend, Andre White and her 3-year-old child were killed in their New Orleans residence on Roman Street.
Juan Smith was convicted in the "Roman Street" case and sentenced to death for the three murders.
On the evening of March 1, 1995, three armed men entered another home in New Orleans on Morrison Road and ordered six people to lie down on the floor. Five were shot multiple times and died. One of the victims, Shelita Russell, was severely injured but conscious after the attack and interviewed by police, reported UPI.
Smith's lawyers say this interview was never turned over to the defense. Russell died several days later.
The lawyers also contend the prosecution withheld a jailhouse confession that involved another suspect in both murders, and made a very favorable deal with the jailhouse suspect in exchange for testimony against Juan Smith in the Morrison Road trial, reported UPI.
Witnesses also were forced to identify Smith in a photo lineup under highly suspect circumstances, the lawyers contend.
In a case involving allegations of substantial prosecutorial non-disclosures, the ABA acknowledges that the court must consider these claims post-trial under the Brady standards. However, the ABA, quoting Cone v. Bell, 129 S.Ct. 1769 (2009), urges the justices to again recognize that a prosecutor’s pretrial disclosure obligations “may arise more broadly under a prosecutor’s ethical or statutory obligations,” as established by the prosecutor’s state attorney regulatory body.
The amicus brief cites three ABA authorities in support of its argument:
ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 3.8(d), which provides for disclosure regardless of materiality. Louisiana and 48 other states have adopted ethics rules that include a provision identical or similar to Model Rule 3.8(d). “Indeed, to the extent Louisiana has modified Rule 3.8(d), it has done so … only to impose more rigorous disclosure obligations on prosecutors,” according to the amicus brief, which includes an appendix listing the prosecutorial disclosure obligations of each state.
Formal [Ethics] Opinion 09-454, “Prosecutor’s Duty to Disclose Evidence and Information Favorable to the Defense,” which discusses the absence of a materiality requirement in Rule 3.8(d). The full text of this opinion is included as an appendix to the amicus brief.
The ABA Standards for Criminal Justice, which are based on consensus views of criminal law professionals. The standards provide for disclosure without regard to materiality.
An analysis of crime and punishment from the perspective of a former prosecutor and current criminal justice practitioner.
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