Taylor v. Illinois,
484 U.S. 400 (1988)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Taylor v. Illinois, 484 U.S. 400 (1988)

Taylor v. Illinois

No. 86-5963

Argued October 7, 1987

Decided January 25, 1988

484 U.S. 400


Well in advance of petitioner's state court trial for attempted murder, the prosecutor filed a discovery motion requesting a list of defense witnesses. Petitioner's answer failed to list one Wormley, as did his amended answer, submitted and accepted on the first day of trial, identifying two witnesses who were never called to testify. On the second day of trial, after the prosecution's two principal witnesses had completed their testimony, petitioner's counsel made an oral motion to further amend the discovery answer to include Wormley. Counsel explained that Wormley had probably seen the entire incident that led to the indictment, and that, although petitioner had told counsel about Wormley earlier, counsel had been unable to locate Wormley. At a subsequent voir dire examination, Wormley testified that he had not been a witness to the incident itself, but had earlier seen the victim and his brother carrying guns and threatening petitioner, and that he just happened to run into petitioner and warned him to watch out. On cross-examination, Wormley acknowledged that he had first met petitioner over two years after the incident in question, and that defense counsel had visited him at his home during the week before the trial began. As a sanction for the failure to identify Wormley in the discovery answer, the trial judge refused to allow Wormley to testify before the jury. The judge explained that petitioner's counsel had committed a blatant and willful violation of the discovery rules, and that the judge doubted the veracity of Wormley's testimony. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed petitioner's conviction.


1. The Compulsory Process Clause of the Sixth Amendment may, in an appropriate case, be violated by the imposition of a discovery sanction that entirely excludes the testimony of a material defense witness. The Clause is not merely a guarantee that the accused shall have the power to subpoena witnesses, but confers on the accused the fundamental right to present witnesses in his own defense. Pp. 484 U. S. 407-409.

2. However, the Compulsory Process Clause does not create an absolute bar to preclusion of the testimony of a defense witness as a sanction for violating a discovery rule. Although a trial court may not ignore the fundamental character of the defendant's right to offer the testimony of witnesses in his favor, the mere invocation of that right cannot automatically and invariably outweigh countervailing public interests. If discovery

Page 484 U. S. 401

violations are willful and motivated by a desire to obtain a tactical advantage or to conceal a plan to present fabricated testimony, it would be entirely appropriate to exclude the witnesses' testimony regardless of whether other, less drastic sanctions might be available, adequate, and merited. Pp. 484 U. S. 410-416.

3. The exclusion of Wormley's testimony did not constitute constitutional error. Pp. 484 U. S. 416-418.

(a) The fact that the voir dire examination of Wormley may have adequately protected the prosecution from prejudice resulting from surprise does not render the imposition of the preclusion sanction unnecessarily harsh. The record raises strong inferences that petitioner's counsel was deliberately seeking a tactical advantage in failing to list Wormley as a witness, and that "witnesses [were] being found that really weren't there." Thus, the case fits into the category of willful misconduct for which the severe sanction of preclusion is justified in order to protect the integrity of the judicial process. Pp. 484 U. S. 416-417.

(b) It is not unfair to hold petitioner responsible for his lawyer's misconduct. The lawyer necessarily has full authority to manage the conduct of the trial, and the client must accept the consequences of the lawyer's trial decisions. Pp. 484 U. S. 417-418.

141 Ill.App.3d 839, 491 N.E.2d 3, affirmed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 484 U. S. 419. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 438.

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