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Brady Material: Prosecution Does Not Have An Affirmative Duty To Obtain Exculpatory Evidence


criminal appeals brady material

People v. Hayes

17 NY3d 46

New York Court of Appeals

Decided on: May 10, 2011

Prosecution Has No Obligation To Produce Exculpatory Evidence

Summary: Defendant Kenneth Hayes stabbed Shell and was arrested. During the trial preparation, Sergeant Fitzpatrick disclosed two statements to the Prosecution that he had overheard by two individuals. The People advised Defendant of the statements and he argued before trial that the lack of police investigation and the failure to obtain contact information constituted a Brady violation. Defendant also sought to use the statements of the two individuals for the non-hearsay purpose of challenging the thoroughness of the police investigation. The trial court held that the People committed no Brady violation.

The trial court precluded defense counsel during cross-examination of Sergeant Fitzpatrick from eliciting testimony regarding the two statements. The Appellate Division affirmed and the Court of Appeals granted leave to appeal. The Court of Appeals held that the People had no obligation to disclose evidence not in their possession or control. Also, a criminal Defendant does not have an unfettered right to challenge the adequacy of a police investigation by any means available. The Court of Appeals affirmed the order of the Appellate Division.

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Issue: Whether the Police committed a Brady violation when they failed to acquire the contact information of two individuals who made statements and whether the Defendant was precluded from challenging the adequacy of the police investigation.

Holding: The Court of Appeals held that the People did not violate their disclosure obligations under Brady and had no duty to disclose evidence not in their possession or control.

In order to establish a Brady Violation, a Defendant must show 1) the evidence is favorable to the Defendant because it is either exculpatory or impeaching in nature; 2) the evidence was suppressed by the prosecution; and 3) prejudice arose because the suppressed evidence was material. The Court of Appeals also held that a criminal Defendant does not have an unfettered right to challenge the adequacy of a police investigation by any means available.

Facts: Defendant Kenneth Hayes stabbed Shell and was arrested. Sergeant Fitzpatrick overheard two separate individuals make a claim but never obtained contact information or investigated further. During the trial preparation, Sergeant Fitzpatrick disclosed two statements to the prosecution, and the People immediately advised Defendant. Defendant argued before trial that the lack of police investigation of the two statements and the failure to obtain contact information constituted a Brady violation. Defendant also sought to use the statements of the two individuals for the non-hearsay purpose of challenging the completeness of the police investigation. The trial court held that the People committed no Brady violation.

The court precluded defense counsel during cross-examination of Sergeant Fitzpatrick from eliciting testimony regarding the two statements. The Appellate Division affirmed and the Court of Appeals granted leave to appeal. The Court of Appeals held that the People had no obligation to disclose evidence not in their possession or control and affirmed the order of the Appellate Division.

Legal Analysis: The Court of Appeals found that there was no Brady violation and refused to impose an affirmative duty upon the police to obtain potentially exculpatory evidence for the benefit of the criminal Defendant. In this case, the People had no obligation to disclose evidence not in their possession or control.

To establish a Brady Violation, a Defendant must show 1) the evidence is favorable to the Defendant because it is either exculpatory or impeaching in nature; 2) the evidence was suppressed by the prosecution; and 3) prejudice arose because the suppressed evidence was material.

     Defendant argues that the Police and the People committed a Brady violation by failing to interview, or at a minimum, acquire the contact information of the two individuals who made statements overheard by the Sergeant. The Court of Appeals held that the failure of the Police and the People to investigate the sources of the two statements was not a Brady violation. The People met their obligation under Brady when they disclosed the content and substance of the statements to Defendant.

The Prosecution had no responsibility to acquire the contact information of the markers of the statements. The Court of Appeals held that the Defendant sought a rule that would impose an affirmative duty upon the Police to obtain potentially exculpatory evidence for the benefit of a criminal Defendant. The Court of Appeals held that they decline to impose such an obligation.

     Defendant’s next argument was that he was precluded from utilizing the two statements and challenging the thoroughness of the police investigation. The Court of Appeals referred to Kyles v. Whitley 514 US 419 1995. In Kyles, the Supreme Court, in discussing the materiality under Brady of witness statements that were not disclosed, acknowledged that it is a common and accepted tactic for Defendant’s to challenge the adequacy of a police investigation. The Court of Appeals held that a criminal Defendant does not have an unfettered right to challenge the adequacy of a police investigation by any means available. It is well settle that an accused’s right to cross-examine witnesses is not absolute, People v. Williams, 81 NY2d 303, 313 1993. 

The Court of Appeals held that the scope of cross-examination is within the sound discretion of the trial court, People v. Corby, 6 NY3d 231, 233 2005, and it must weigh the probative value of such evidence against the possibility that it would confuse the main issue and mislead the jury or create substantial danger of undue prejudice to one of the parties.

Defendant contends that the statements were relevant to his defense because it would establish that Shell was the initial aggressor and possessed the knife first. Defendant argues that the police 1) failed to fingerprint the knife and 2) failed to interview, or obtain contact information of the two individuals who made the statements.

The Court of Appeals held that, while a Defendant has a Constitutional right to present a defense, the right to present a defense does not give criminal Defendants carte blanche to circumvent the rules of evidence People v. Cepeda, 208 AD2d 364, 364 1ST Dept 1994, quoting United States v. Almonte, 965 F2d 27, 30 2d Cir. 1992.

     Challenging the adequacy of a police investigation may constitute a permissible non-hearsay purpose where appropriate, but there is no rule requiring the automatic admission of any hearsay statement. In addition, the Court of Appeal held that there is no unfettered right to introduction of hearsay testimony bearing no assurance of reliability. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the use of the anonymous hearsay in cross-examination would have created an unacceptable risk that the jury would consider the statements for their truth.

The Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in prohibiting the use of the hearsay statements and precluding the Defendant from challenging the adequacy and thoroughness of the police investigation. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate Division’s order.

 


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