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U.S. Supreme Court

ABA Amicus Brief Says Prosecutor Disclosure Obligations Are Broader than Brady Requirements

Posted Aug 24, 2011 6:00 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The ABA has filed an amicus brief in a pending U.S. Supreme Court appeal filed by an inmate who claims his constitutional rights were violated by New Orleans prosecutors.

The inmate, Juan Smith, was the only man charged and convicted in the murders of five men who were killed by a group of gunmen. He contends in his Supreme Court brief (PDF) that prosecutors failed to turn over exculpatory evidence, including the confession of another man and conflicting statements by a survivor about his ability to identify the perpetrators. At issue is whether the failure to turn over the materials violated Smith’s rights under Brady v. Maryland because the information was material to guilt.

The ABA brief (PDF) does not address the merits of Smith’s claims. Instead, it asks the court to recognize that prosecutors’ ethical obligations to disclose exculpatory evidence before trial are separate from and broader than the constitutional standards established in Brady.

Under the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, prosecutors have an obligation to disclose exculpatory and mitigating evidence, regardless of materiality, according to the ABA brief. The ABA Standards for Criminal Justice also promote broad disclosure without regard to materiality, the brief says.

An ABA press release has more information. The case is Smith v. Cain.

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