Constitutional Law

New York attorney general’s actions over rape case are 'a sinister abuse,' dissenting judge says

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Letitia James headshot

New York Attorney General Letitia James in February 2020. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

In a scathing dissent, a federal appellate judge admonished the New York attorney general’s office for defending a conviction in a 2009 rape case.

After a New York state trial court convicted Terrence Sandy McCray of first-degree rape and sentenced him to 22 years in prison, McCray argued that the decision not to grant him full access to his accuser’s mental health records violated his right to due process under Brady v. Maryland and his right to confront his accuser under the Sixth Amendment.

Judge Dennis Jacobs of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New York—which considered the case after two state appeals courts disagreed with McCray and he brought his challenge to federal court—wrote that the decision to uphold McCray’s conviction was “objectively unreasonable.”

“The Constitutional deprivation under Brady v. Maryland … was absolute—that is, none of the many exculpatory documents were turned over,” said Jacobs in the Aug. 17 decision, who added that the accuser’s health records showed evidence of distortions in memory and reality. “It was [an] incontestable error to tolerate that denial of the due process right to a fair trial.”

Jacobs also accused the attorney general’s office of “doggedly” defending a conviction that was obtained despite the violation of McCray’s due process rights. Letitia James became the New York attorney general in 2019.

“True, the initial mistake here was made by the trial judge,” Jacobs said in his dissent. “With 5,000 pages of a medical file, the process of review somehow broke down. The critical documents were withheld from the prosecution, as well as the defense. But after the trial, the successive state courts and the district court—and now my chambers—found documents that ‘put the whole case in … a different light’ and ‘undermine confidence in the verdict.’”

“A prosecutor who knowingly did what the trial judge did would be a menace,” Jacobs continued. “But good faith is irrelevant under Brady … and functionally, there is no difference between an error by the trial judge and a dirty deed by a prosecutor: The state has deprived the defendant of a fair trial.”

Jacobs contended that the attorney general’s office knew from state appellate opinions that McCray was denied the right to defend himself but “labors hard to maintain the advantage.” As a result, he said, the defendant still hasn’t been provided the opportunity to review documents that could acquit him in his case.

“This is a sinister abuse,” Jacobs said. “The last-ditch defense of such a conviction by the attorney general is disreputable. Were I a lawyer for the state, I would not have been able to sign the brief it filed on this appeal.”

In its majority opinion, the 2nd Circuit upheld the federal district court decision finding that the state appellate court correctly concluded that the nondisclosure of full mental health records to McCray did not violate Brady. He received a 28-page representative sample, which the federal appeals court said provided enough information to his defense team.

“Between the sample provided to McCray and the victim’s testimony in open court, McCray had ample material with which to impeach the victim’s credibility at trial and more than sufficient information to prompt defense counsel to pursue the victim’s mental health as a potential avenue for impeachment,” wrote Judge Richard J. Sullivan for the majority. reported on the opinions.

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