Brady v. Maryland is nearly 50 years old. There are very few lawyers who are practicing today who have not spent their entire career practicing under the simple rule that prosecutors need to disclose to the defense exculpatory evidence. Yet violations of the rule are far too common. Perhaps that will stop. The United States Supreme Court accepted two cases that raise Brady violation issues.
Turner v. United States and Overton v. United States, arise out of the brutal 1984 murder of Catherine Fuller, a District of Columbia mother. The petitioners in these cases are a group of D.C. men who were convicted of the crime, based in large part on testimony from alleged eyewitnesses. Decades later, a reporter learned that defense attorneys had not received a statement suggesting that someone else had committed the crime; additional discovery then revealed that prosecutors had failed to turn over other evidence that could have aided the defendants. The men sought to vacate their convictions, but were unsuccessful in the lower courts.
Overton had asked the court to weigh in on the standard that the lower court used to evaluate his claim that prosecutors had not complied with their obligations under Brady v. Maryland, which requires the government to turn over information that could exonerate the defendant. Turner and his co-defendants had asked the court to consider whether, when determining the significance of suppressed evidence, courts can consider information that comes to light after trial. The Supreme Court announced that it would review a more straightforward question in both cases: whether the men’s convictions must be set aside under Brady.