Nation’s Highest Court Decides Whether Government’s Failure to Turn Over Evidence Should Result in New Trial in Criminal Case

In a Cape Cod criminal case, both the prosecution and the defense have certain obligations to provide the opposing party with evidence that may be used at trial. In particular, the government must provide exculpatory evidence – evidence that tends to show the innocence of the defendant.

Of course, this does not always happen, and sometimes post-conviction proceedings are filed years – or even decades – after it is finally discovered that the government failed to turn over a certain piece of evidence. Such a situation does not necessarily result in a new trial, since there are multiple factors that must cut in the defendant’s favor in order for such relief to be granted.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case under consideration by the United States Supreme Court, the petitioners and several others were accused of kidnapping, robbing, and murdering a woman in 1984. The petitioners were convicted, but two co-defendants were acquitted. The convictions were affirmed on direct appeal in 1988.

In 2010, the petitioners sought post-conviction relief, seeking to have their convictions vacated on the ground that the government had possessed – but withheld – certain evidence at the time of the trial. According to the petitioners, the evidence in question was both favorable to them and material to the issues at trial. Both the trial court and the intermediate court of appeals denied post-conviction relief to the petitioners. The United States Supreme Court granted their request for certiorari to review the case.

Decision of the Court

The Court affirmed the decisions of the lower tribunals. The government admitted that the evidence in question was favorable to the petitioners but argued that the evidence was not “material” under the circumstances. The Court agreed, first noting that evidence was material only if there was a reasonable probability that the result of the underlying proceeding would have been different had the petitioners been given the evidence prior to their trial.

The Court determined that, considering the evidence in the context of the entire record, the evidence withheld by the government was “too little, too weak, or too distant” to meet the test for being material. Instead, the Court opined that the evidence in question was largely cumulative of other impeachment evidence that was presented by the petitioners during their trial. The Court acknowledged that impeachment evidence might be considered material in a particular case but stated that, in the trial at issue, the cumulative effect of the withheld evidence was “insufficient to undermine confidence” in the verdict.

To Speak to an Experienced Cape Cod Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you are facing criminal charges, you need an attorney who can help defend you to the fullest extent of the law. After all, not only your reputation is at stake, but your liberty and your financial future are as well. To schedule a consultation to discuss your case with an experienced Cape Cod criminal defense attorney, call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, at 888-262-6664 today. We have offices in Plymouth and Hyannis.

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