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The Brady Rule And Civil Suits Against Police Officers


Brady Rule And Civil Suits Against Police OfficersPeople v. Garrett

2014 NY Slip Op 04876

New York Court Of Appeals

Decided on: June 30, 2014

Summary: Police discovered a dead body buried behind the fence of Defendant’s mother’s home.  Defendant’s girlfriend told police that her daughter had been missing for two weeks. Detectives located dental records of Defendant’s girlfriend’s daughter that were used to positively identified her as the deceased body. Defendant was arrested pursuant to an outstanding parole warrant and brought to a homicide bureau where he eventually confessed to the murder of his girlfriend’s daughter. Prior to trial, Defendant filed a demand for discovery, requesting that the People disclose all Brady

At trial, Defendant claimed that the People committed a Brady violation by failing to disclose to him that an unrelated civil action had been brought against the Detective for Police misconduct in a different criminal case. The People stated that they had no knowledge of the allegations against the detective, and, even if they had been aware, the information does not constitute Brady material. After Defendant’s conviction, Defendant made a §440.10 motion to vacate the conviction arguing that  had the information been properly disclosed, he would have used it to impeach O’Leary’s credibility at the suppression hearing and at trial. The court denied Defendant’s motion. The Appellate Division granted leave to appeal and held that the allegations against the detective ‘constituted impeachment evidence’ and that the People’s failure to disclose this evidence “may have denied Defendant an opportunity to conduct an investigation leading to exculpatory or impeaching evidence.” The Court Of Appeals reversed the Appellate Division and held that ‘a Police officer’s secret knowledge of his own prior illegal conduct in an unrelated case will not be imputed to the prosecution for Brady purposed where the People had no knowledge of the corrupt officer’s ‘bad acts’ until after trial.’  The Court Of Appeals reversed and held that there was no Brady violation.

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Issue: Whether the Peoples failure to disclose evidence of Police misconduct about a prior case constitutes a Brady violation.

Holding: No. The Court Of Appeals held that the People had no constructive knowledge of the civil allegations against Detective O’Leary. The allegations did not arise out of O’Leary’s investigation of Defendant’s case and his actions as part of the prosecution’s team, nor were they directly related to Defendant’s murder prosecution. O’Leary’s misconduct was alleged in an unrelated case and his knowledge of his own alleged misconduct and the civil action against him could not be imputed to the People for Brady purposes.

Facts:  Suffolk County Police were called to investigate an overwhelming odor in a neighborhood. Police discovered a dead body buried behind the fence of Defendant Mark Garret’s mother’s home.  Defendant’s girlfriend told police that her daughter L.C, had been missing for two weeks. Detectives located dental records of Defendant’s girlfriend’s daughter that were used to positively identified her as the deceased body. Defendant was arrested pursuant to an outstanding parole warrant and brought to a homicide bureau. At the homicide bureau, Defendant eventually confessed to the murder of his girlfriend’s daughter orally and in writing. Prior to trial, Defendant filed a demand for discovery requesting that the People disclose all Brady material.

At trial, Defendant claimed that the People committed a Brady violation by failing to disclose to him that an unrelated civil action had been brought against the Detective’s alleged police misconduct in a prior criminal case. Defendant made a §440.10 motion to vacate the conviction arguing that had the information been properly disclosed, he would have used it to impeach O’Leary’s credibility at the suppression hearing and at trial. The People submitted an affirmation stating that they had no actual knowledge of the allegations against the detective until the District Attorney’s office was ordered to unseal his case files, and even if they had been aware, the information does not constitute as Brady material.  The trial court denied the § 440.10 motion and The Appellate Division granted Defendant leave to appeal.

At the Appellate Division, it was determined that the allegations against the detective “constituted impeachment evidence” and that the People’s failure to disclose this evidence may have denied Defendant an opportunity to conduct an investigation leading to exculpatory or impeaching evidence. The Court Of Appeals reversed the Appellate Division and affirmed the conviction.

Legal Analysis: The Court Of Appeals relied on Brady v. Maryland, 373 US 83 1963, to determine whether the People committed a Brady violation. The People did not disclose that a federal civil action had been brought against one of their police witnesses, a homicide detective who interrogated Defendant, alleging that the detective engaged in Police misconduct in an unrelated case. Brady proscribes “the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to the accused, where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment and is based on due process.”

To make a successful Brady claim, a Defendant must show:

A) The evidence is favorable to Defendant because it is either exculpatory or    impeaching in nature.

B) The evidence was suppressed by the prosecution, and,

C) Prejudice arose because the suppressed evidence was material.

A prosecutor’s “duty to learn” of favorable evidence known to those ‘acting on the Government’s behalf ’ has generally been held to include information that directly relates to the prosecution or investigation of the Defendant’s case. Kyles v. Whitley, 514 US 419,451 1999.

It follows that, when a Police officer engages in illegal conduct in the course of his or her investigation or prosecution of the Defendant, knowledge of that misconduct may be imputed to the people for Brady purposes, regardless of the officer’s motivation or the prosecutor’s actual awareness. However, the tendency of impeachment evidence should be assessed without regard to the weight of the evidence. Kyles v. Whitley, 514 US 419,451 1999.

The Court Of Appeals held that the People had no constructive knowledge of the civil allegations against detective O’Leary and that the allegations did not arise out of O’Leary’s investigation of Defendant’s case. O’Leary’s actions as part of the investigations team were not directly related to Defendant’s murder prosecution. The allegations were collateral to Defendant’s prosecution to the extent that they may have provided impeachment material, but could not be imputed to the People for Brady purposes. The Court Of Appeals reversed The Appellate Division order and reinstated the County Court’s order.


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