U.S. Supreme Court

News Coverage of Prosecutor's Supreme Court Grilling Gets Snarky


Supreme Court justices had little patience Tuesday for a New Orleans prosecutor’s argument that exculpatory evidence in a criminal case was not “material” and didn’t need to be turned over to defense lawyers.

According to the National Law Journal (reg. req.), justices took the prosecutor’s office “to the woodshed” for arguing there was no need to tell defense lawyers that a man who survived a mass murder in 1995 had previously told police he could not identify the perpetrators. At trial, the witness identified Juan Smith, the only man charged and convicted in the murders.

Some news stories focused on the prosecutor who argued the case. The New York Times began its story on the arguments this way: “Donna R. Andrieu, an assistant district attorney in New Orleans, had the unenviable task at the Supreme Court on Tuesday of defending her office’s conduct in withholding evidence from a criminal defendant. She made the least of it.”

SCOTUSblog also described the prosecutor’s difficult time. “There may be many ways for a lawyer to realize that an argument before the Supreme Court is falling flat, but none can top this: a justice asking if the counsel had ever considered simply forfeiting the case,” SCOTUSblog said. “That is what happened on Tuesday to Donna R. Andrieu, an assistant district attorney in New Orleans, as her argument lay all about her, in shambles.”

According to the NLJ, the Supreme Court accepted the case though there was no new legal issue and no circuit split. Observers speculated at the time that the court granted cert to focus on the New Orleans prosecutor’s office after deciding a case last year that also involved failure to turn over exculpatory evidence. Though the Supreme Court ruled for prosecutors last year when it overturned a $14 million judgment against the office, arguments on Tuesday made clear that justices weren’t happy with the DA, the story says.

The case is Smith v. Cain.

Prior coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “ABA Amicus Brief Says Prosecutor Disclosure Obligations Are Broader than Brady Requirements”

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