U.S. Supreme Court

Jackson dissent: SCOTUS should have heard case of death-row inmate who didn't get co-defendant's confession

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Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote the dissent.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s three liberal justices criticized the Louisiana Supreme Court on Monday for upholding the death penalty in the case of a death-row inmate who wasn’t provided with a co-defendant’s confession before trial.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson dissented from the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case of David Brown in an opinion joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Brown was convicted of murder in the death of a prison guard during an attempted escape from prison. Brown acknowledged he was involved in an initial assault on the guard but said he wasn’t present when the victim was killed and didn’t intend for the victim to die.

A fellow inmate said in a confession that he and a different inmate decided to kill the guard to help themselves. The confession did not mention Brown in a description of events before the murder.

Jackson said the confession supports an inference that Brown was not one of the inmates who killed or who decided to kill the victim. As a result, the confession provides some value in support of Brown’s argument that he wasn’t present during the murder, that he was less culpable than his co-defendants and that he did not deserve to be sentenced to death.

The Louisiana Supreme Court, however, ruled that the confession wasn’t favorable to Brown because it didn’t specify who killed the prison guard and didn’t expressly state that Brown wasn’t involved.

“We have repeatedly reversed lower courts—and Louisiana courts, in particular—for similar refusals to enforce the 14th Amendment’s mandate that favorable and material evidence in the government’s possession be disclosed to the defense before trial,” Jackson wrote.

“This court has decided not to grant Brown’s petition for certiorari, but that determination should in no way be construed as an endorsement of the lower court’s legal reasoning. In my view, the Louisiana Supreme Court misinterpreted and misapplied our Brady jurisprudence in a manner that contravenes settled law.”

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