Michigan Supreme Court Holds Brady v Maryland Does Not Support a Due Diligence Requirement

On April 4th, 2014, the Michigan Supreme Court held that the United States Supreme Court's decision in Brady v. Maryland and its progeny do not support a due diligence requirement and overruled a Michigan Court of Appeals decision.

In People v. Chenault, Docket No. 146523, the Michigan Supreme Court overruled People v. Lester, 232 Mich App 262 (1998), a decision that added an additional fourth "due diligence" prong to the three-part Brady test articulated by the United States Supreme Court in 1963.

Chenault arose from an appeal of a murder conviction.  In the course of law enforcement's investigation in the case, law enforcement interviewed a key witness for the prosecution and made recordings of those interviews. The witness also gave a written statement and law enforcement made a summary of the same interviews.  Before trial, the State disclosed the witness's written statements and the summary of her statements made by law enforcement, but law enforcement never disclosed the video recordings of the witness's interviews to either the State or the defense.  

Defendant proceeded to trial and was convicted of murder.  On appeal, defendant argued that the State violated Brady by failing to disclose the video recordings of the witness's statements. The Court of Appeals denied defendant's appeal on the ground that defense counsel's failure to request the video recordings prior to trial barred any appellate relief in light of People v. Lester's "due diligence" requirement.  The Court of Appeals contended that defense counsel's specific request of the videos was a condition precedent to a finding of a Brady violation.

Defendant appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, and in doing so specifically held

Brady and its progeny do not support a diligence requirement, and Lester must be overruled.

1. Brady held that the prosecution’s suppression of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process when the evidence is material to either guilt or punishment, irrespective of the prosecution’s good or bad faith. The United States Supreme Court articulated the essential components of a Brady violation in a three-factor test: (1) The evidence at issue must be favorable to the accused, either because it is exculpatory or because it is impeaching, (2) the prosecution must have suppressed that evidence, either willfully or inadvertently, and (3) prejudice must have ensued, that is, the evidence must be material. The government is held responsible for evidence within its control, even evidence unknown to the prosecution, without regard to the prosecution’s good or bad faith. Evidence is favorable to the defense when it is either exculpatory or impeaching. To establish materiality, the defendant must show a reasonable probability that had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome. This standard does not require demonstrating by a preponderance of the evidence that disclosure of the suppressed evidence would have ultimately resulted in the defendant’s acquittal. The question is whether in the absence of the suppressed evidence, the defendant received a fair trial, that is, a trial resulting in a verdict worthy of confidence. In assessing the materiality of the evidence, courts must consider the suppressed evidence collectively, rather than piecemeal.

2. In Lester, the Court of Appeals added an additional requirement to the Brady test: that the defendant did not possess the evidence and could not have obtained it himself or herself with any reasonable diligence. Neither the United States Supreme Court nor the Michigan Supreme Court has endorsed this element. Any concerns that a diligence requirement might address are already confronted in the context of Brady’s suppression requirement and the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of the effective assistance of counsel. A diligence rule of the sort adopted in Lester is contrary to Brady. The Brady rule is aimed at defining an important prosecutorial duty; it is not a tool to ensure competent defense counsel. Adding a diligence requirement to the rule undermines the fairness that it is designed to protect. Because the four- factor Lester test was not doctrinally supported and undermined the purpose of Brady, it was overruled. The controlling test is that articulated in Strickler v Greene, 527 US 263 (1999): (1) the prosecution has suppressed evidence (2) that is favorable to the accused and (3) viewed in its totality, material.

3. Defendant’s Brady claim failed because the suppressed evidence was not material to his guilt. The prosecution conceded that the evidence in question was suppressed, leaving the questions of whether the suppressed evidence was favorable to defendant, either as exculpatory or impeaching evidence, and whether it was material. Only three people witnessed the shooting. Other than Holloway’s and Chambers’s testimony, no other evidence at trial identified defendant as the shooter. Because the videotaped statements could have impeached Holloway and Chambers as well as undermined the strength of Holloway’s identification of defendant, the evidence was favorable to the defense. The suppressed evidence was not material, however. The question was not whether defendant would more likely than not have received a different verdict with the evidence, but whether in its absence defendant received a fair trial, understood as a trial resulting in a verdict worthy of confidence. Even in the absence of the suppressed evidence, defendant received such a trial because the cumulative effect of the evidence was not material. The promises of leniency made to both Holloway and Chambers were not material; they were not conditioned on any behavior on their part. The evidence would not have undermined Holloway’s identification of defendant in a material way. Despite minor discrepancies, Holloway identified defendant with confidence, and her qualifications about her ability to view the shooter did not undermine the overall strength of her identification. The suppressed evidence also did not contain information that would lead to the conclusion that defense counsel would have asserted that Holloway misidentified defendant rather than the cover-up theory pursued at trial.

4. Defendant could not establish the prejudice necessary to prevail on his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Defendant claimed that defense counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and acquire the recordings during trial. Defendant could not establish a Brady violation because the suppressed evidence was not material, however, and Brady materiality is assessed under the same reasonable-probability standard as that used to assess prejudice for purposes of ineffective assistance of counsel.