Law enforcement, unbeknownst to Appellant, recorded the videotape, and the State denied outright that the videotape had audio. So although Appellant might have known of his exculpatory statements, as he maintained all along that he had requested testing of the plant material and continuously denied that it was marijuana, he was unaware that an audio recording existed that captured those very remarks, among others. ... Therefore, the court of appeals erred in holding that Brady was not applicable in this case. The duty to disclose existed because the audio recording was known to the State but unknown to Appellant, supported his defense, and the State failed to disclose the audio portion of the videotape.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Texas high criminal court overturns life sentence on Brady violation
Having recently been discussing "Brady violations" (failure to reveal exculpatory evidence) by prosecutors, Grits should mention a notable Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision from September overturning a marijuana conviction that resulted in a life sentence because of a Brady claim. In State v. Pena, a unanimous court said the prosecution erred by editing out a portion of audio on a video from a traffic stop in which the defendant discussed issues that go to his intent to possess marijuana vs. hemp for producing rope. The state also destroyed the evidence without a court order and without making it available to the defense for independent testing.
The Waco Court of Appeals had ruled "that Appellant knew of the existence and content of his statement in the videotape since he was there when it was made," so no harm, no foul. Speaking for the CCA, though, Judge Barbara Hervey disagreed:
I'm glad to see the CCA paying more rigorous attention to Brady claims, and am especially surprised and pleased to see a unanimous court sign off on the ruling ordering a new trial. I wouldn't have been surprised, based on their past rulings, if the CCA had held that the failure to disclose was "harmless," but when you're talking about a life sentence, "harm" is in the eye of the beholder.