Smith v. Cain

Justia.com Opinion Summary: Petitioner was convicted of first-degree murder based on the testimony of a single eyewitness. During state postconviction proceedings, petitioner obtained police files containing statements by the eyewitness contradicting his testimony. Petitioner argued that the prosecution's failure to disclose those statements violated Brady v. Maryland. The Court held that Brady required that petitioner's conviction be reversed where the eyewitness's testimony was the only evidence linking petitioner to the crime and the eyewitness's undisclosed statements contradicted his testimony. The eyewitness's statements were plainly material, and the State's failure to disclose those statements to the defense thus violated Brady.

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NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321 .

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

SMITH v. CAIN, WARDEN

certiorari to the criminal district court of louisiana, orleans parish

No. 10–8145. Argued November 8, 2011—Decided January 10, 2012

Petitioner Juan Smith was convicted of first-degree murder based on the testimony of a single eyewitness. During state postconviction relief proceedings, Smith obtained police files containing statements by the eyewitness contradicting his testimony. Smith argued that the prosecution’s failure to disclose those statements violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U. S. 83 . Brady held that due process bars a State from withholding evidence that is favorable to the defense and material to the defendant’s guilt or punishment. See id., at 87. The state trial court rejected Smith’s Brady claim, and the Louisiana Court of Appeal and Louisiana Supreme Court denied review.

Held: Brady requires that Smith’s conviction be reversed. The State does not dispute that the eyewitness’s statements were favorable to Smith and that those statements were not disclosed to Smith. Under Brady, evidence is material if there is a “reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Cone v. Bell, 556 U. S. 449 –470. A “reasonable probability” means that the likelihood of a different result is great enough to “undermine[ ] confidence in the outcome of the trial.” Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U. S. 419 . Evidence impeaching an eyewitness’s testimony may not be material if the State’s other evidence is strong enough to sustain confidence in the verdict. United States v. Agurs, 427 U. S. 97 –113, and n. 21. Here, however, the eyewitness’s testimony was the only evidence linking Smith to the crime, and the eyewitness’s undisclosed statements contradicted his testimony. The eyewitness’s statements were plainly material, and the State’s failure to disclose those statements to the defense thus violated Brady. Pp. 2–4.

Reversed and remanded.

     Roberts, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion.



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