The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is considering whether to grant certiorari in a case out of California where the state is arguing that Brady evidence is not required to be disclosed to the defendant before a preliminary hearing.
We wrote about the case in March when the First District Court of Appeal upheld a superior court’s decision to dismiss the case against Baldomero Gutierrez because the state failed to disclose impeachment evidence before his preliminary hearing. The State of California is now appealing that decision to SCOTUS.
In State v. Gutierrez, the defendant moved to dismiss the charges of two counts of committing lewd acts on a child under age 14 after he discovered police reports that one of the victims in the case had made unsubstantiated allegations that she had been molested on two prior occasions. (Petitioner’s brief at p. 2) One of the police reports said that there was no medical evidence to support the alleged victim’s claim on the first occasion, and that her older sister admitted to making false accusations against the same man under threats from her mother. The second police report from a later incident supported the same conclusion: the alleged perpetrator had an alibi that checked out, and the alleged victim told a police officer that she might have accused the man under threat from her mother. (Petitioner’s brief at p. 3)
When Gutierrez moved to dismiss the charges against him upon his discover of the police reports, the Superior Court agreed with him that the state had violated Brady by failing to turn over those reports before the preliminary hearing. The state did not argue that the evidence wasn’t Brady material, but that Brady didn’t apply because “there can be no violation of Brady unless the government’s nondisclosure infringes upon the defendant’s right to a fair trial.” (Petitioner’s brief at p. 3)
The question the state presented to the Supreme Court in its petition is:
“Does this due process obligation [outlined in Brady v. Maryland (1963)] require prosecutors to provide exculpatory evidence to a criminal defendant before a preliminary hearing at which a magistrate determines whether sufficient cause exists to require the defendant to stand trial?”
In essence, the Superior Court interpreted Brady to apply not strictly to the defendant’s trial, but also to the finding of probably cause that allowed him to stand trial in the first place. In its ruling in favor of Gutierrez, the Court found that it was reasonably probable that the state’s disclosure of the withheld evidence would have resulted in a different outcome at the preliminary hearing.
The state argues in its petition that this decision is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s Brady jurisprudence and “squarely at odds with decisions of other States,” suggesting that the First District Court of Appeal’s “novel interpretation of Brady” would work a “radical change in the criminal justice process”. (Petitioner’s brief at p. 5) The state says the required disclosures of exculpatory and impeachment information is only a “trial-related right” under Brady and its progeny, and that the obligation to disclose does not attach before a guilty plea is entered or a conviction won.
The case was distributed for conference on November 4, 2013. SCOTUSBlog lists it as one of its cases to watch at the Court’s November 26, 2013 Conference.
Read the State of California’s Petition for Certiorari here.
Read Gutierrez’s response here.
Follow the case on SCOTUSBlog here.
On December 2, 2013 the Supreme Court denied the petition of certiorari.
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