Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Prosecutor's Ethical Obligations to Disclose Exculpatory Evidence Held Broader than Brady Obligation (4/15/15)

In In re Kline, 2015 D.C. App. LEXIS 141 (D.C. Court of Appeals Apr. 9, 2015), here, the D.C. Court of Appeals upheld a finding that, although a failure to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence might not be a Brady violation, it can violate the disclosure requirement for prosecutors under local bar rules.  The opening paragraph lays out the issue and the resolution:
This matter comes before us upon the Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility ("the Board"). The Board recommended that a 30-day suspension be given to Andrew J. Kline ("Kline") after finding that Kline violated Rule 3.8 (e) of the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct ("Rule 3.8 (e)"). Rule 3.8 (e) prohibits a prosecutor in a criminal case from intentionally failing to disclose to the defense any evidence or information that the prosecutor knows or reasonably should know tends to negate the guilt of the accused. Bar Counsel takes no exception to the Report and Recommendation of the Board. Kline argued, inter alia, that he did not violate Rule 3.8 (e) because his ethical duties are coextensive with the duties imposed under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S. Ct. 1194, 10 L. Ed. 2d 215 (1963). Specifically, Kline relies on the "material-to-outcome" standard recognized by the United States Supreme Court in Brady's progeny to argue that a prosecutor cannot violate Rule 3.8 (e) unless there is a reasonable probability that the information or evidence withheld made a difference in the outcome of the trial. We hold that Kline's interpretation of Rule 3.8 (e), which incorporates a retrospective materiality analysis, is not the appropriate test for determining whether a prosecutor has violated Rule 3.8 (e). We also hold that Bar Counsel proved by clear and convincing evidence that Kline intentionally failed to disclose information in violation of the rule. However, we conclude that given the confusion regarding the correct interpretation of a prosecutor's obligations under the rule, sanctioning Kline would be unwarranted.
The case contains a good discussion of the restricted scope of Brady -- to an ex post facto evaluation of whether the failure to disclose was material to the outcome.  The bar rule, in contrast, is a forward looking prophylactic rule that necessarily cannot be tested by whether it is material to an outcome that has not even occurred:
In short, although significant overlaps exist in a pretrial versus post-trial ethical analysis, it makes little common sense to premise a violation of an ethical rule on the effect compliance with that rule may have on the outcome of the underlying trial, because there can be "no objective, ad hoc way" for a prosecutor "to evaluate before trial whether [evidence or information] will be material to the outcome." See Lewis, 408 A.2d at 307. For that reason, it is important not to use Brady as a "canon of prosecutorial ethics." Commonwealth v. Tuma, 285 Va. 629, 740 S.E.2d 14, 20 n.2 (Va. 2013).
The Court earlier also made this significant comment analysis:
Further, as the Supreme Court recognized in Kyles, "[t]he rule in Bagley (and, hence, in Brady) requires less of the prosecution than the ABA Standards for Criminal Justice, which call generally for prosecutorial disclosures of any evidence tending to exculpate or mitigate." Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419, 437, 115 S. Ct. 1555, 131 L. Ed. 2d 490 (1995). The Supreme Court reiterated that basic tenet in Cone, noting that "[a]lthough the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as interpreted by Brady, only mandates the disclosure of material evidence, the obligation to disclose evidence favorable to the defense may arise more broadly under a prosecutor's ethical or statutory obligations." Cone v. Bell, 556 U.S. 449, 470 n.15, 129 S. Ct. 1769, 173 L. Ed. 2d 701 (2009) (citations omitted).
This violation occurred while Kline was an AUSA working on local prosecutions.  Other jurisdictions have rules that are similar and similarly interpreted.

It might be worth including some type of forward looking request under the local bar rules in addition to requests for Brady disclosures (which under the analysis above is a bit of a non sequitur before trial).  I would think that most prosecutors would not want to take the risk that a retrospective Brady violation may be found and thus would tend, even apart from a bar rule, to err on the side of caution and disclose possibly exculpatory evidence.

Of course, unlike a Brady violation which can give a convicted defendant relief, a bar violation does not per se give the defendant relief.  It merely punishes the prosecutor.

Thanks to the White Collar Crime Prof Blog article:  Solomon Wisenberg, District of Columbia Court of Appeals Makes It Official: Prosecutor's Duty To Disclose Exculpatory Evidence Is Broader Than Brady (White Collar Crime Prof Blog 4/10/15), here.

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