The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear one of the oldest capital cases in California – that of Richard Phillips’, whose conviction was overturned on account of Brady and Napue violations made by a district attorney.
In the 1977 murder case out of Madera County involving an alleged armed robbery, prosecutors failed to disclose a promise of leniency they had made to the lawyer of one of their key witnesses – Mr. Phillips’ girlfriend.
Sharon Coleman testified at Phillips’ 1980 trial that he had planned to rob the victims, making the murder of the deceased victim a capital offense. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that at trial, Phillips’ attorney argued to the jury that Coleman had likely received reduced charges in exchange for her testimony, but District Attorney David Minier responded that the claim was “sheer fabrication.”
Under Brady, Minier’s concealment of the promise he made to Coleman’s lawyer was a violation of his constitutional obligation to turn such evidence over to defense. Under Napue, the DA’s knowledge that Coleman was not telling the truth when she testified that she had no expectation of leniency was a violation of his duty to reveal the false testimony of a state witness. Read up on Brady and Napue here.
Phillips’ case was highlighted as a “Petition of the Day” on SCOTUSblog when it was conferenced on March 13, but the Supreme Court denied the petition yesterday. The state argued that the Ninth Circuit had used a standard of mere speculative possibility instead of sufficient probability that the withheld evidence had prejudiced the defendant, a necessary finding under Brady.
District Attorney Minier went on to be a judge of the Superior Court of California and currently serves as Chief Justice of the California Military Appeals Panel. You can read his colorful biography here.