- 516 U.S. 1 (1995)
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
OCTOBER TERM, 1995
WOOD, SUPERINTENDENT, WASHINGTON STATE PENITENTIARY v. BARTHOLOMEW
ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
No. 94-1419. Decided October 10, 1995
Respondent was convicted in a Washington state court of murder during a robbery. He admitted the robbery but claimed the victim was killed accidentally. When both his brother Rodney and Rodney's girlfriend testified that respondent had told them of his robbery plans and his intent to leave no witnesses, the defense suggested they were lying to downplay Rodney's participation in the crime. The prosecution never disclosed that the two had taken pretrial polygraph examinations and that the examiner had concluded that Rodney's responses to questions about the robbery and murder weapon indicated deception. Respondent later filed for federal habeas, claiming, inter alia, that because the polygraph results were material under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U. S. 83, the prosecution's failure to disclose them justified setting aside the conviction. The District Court denied the writ, but the Ninth Circuit reversed, concluding that the polygraph results, although inadmissible under Washington law, were material under Brady because, had respondent's counsel known of the results, he would have had a stronger reason to investigate Rodney's story and might have deposed Rodney and used the answers in Rodney's cross-examination.
Held: The Ninth Circuit's decision is a misapplication of this Court's Brady jurisprudence. Evidence is material under Brady, and the failure to disclose it justifies setting aside a conviction, only where there 1
exists a reasonable probability that had the evidence been disclosed the result at trial would have been different. The polygraph results were not evidence at all, and their disclosure would have had no direct effect on the trial's outcome because respondent could have made no mention of them during argument or while questioning witnesses. The Ninth Circuit's judgment is based on mere speculation that disclosure might have led respondent's counsel to conduct additional discovery. Yet counsel's trial strategy did not involve deposing Rodney, and counsel candidly acknowledged that disclosure would not have affected the scope of his cross-examination. Since the case against respondent was overwhelming, even without Rodney's testimony, it should take more than supposition on respondent's weak premises to undermine a court's confidence in the trial's outcome.
Certiorari granted; 34 F.3d 870, reversed and remanded.
The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the District Court's denial of habeas relief based on its speculation that the prosecution's failure to turn over the results of a polygraph examination of a key witness might have had an adverse effect on pretrial preparation by the defense. The Court of Appeals assumed, and the parties do not dispute, that the results were inadmissible under state law both for substantive purposes as well as for impeachment. The decision below is a misapplication of our Brady jurisprudence, see Brady v. Maryland, 373 U. S. 83 (1963), and we accordingly reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand for further proceedings.
On August 1, 1981, respondent Dwayne Bartholomew robbed a laundromat in Tacoma, Washington. In the course of the robbery, the laundromat attendant was shot and killed. Two shots were fired: One hit the attendant in the head; the second lodged in a counter near the victim's body. From the beginning, respondent admitted that he committed the robbery and that the shots came from his gun.