People v. Mark Garrett
AD2 order dated May 15, 2013, reversing trial court’s order denying 440.10 motion without a hearing. Decision below: 106 AD3d 929, 964 NYS2d 652. Graffeo, J., granted leave to People August 19, 2013.
ISSUE PRESENTED: Defendant brought a CPL §440.10 motion based on a claimed Brady violation. The trial prosecutor had not disclosed that their key witness, a police officer who extracted a confession from defendant, allegedly by force, was the subject of a pending unrelated civil suit based on similar misconduct. The trial court denied the motion without a hearing. The Appellate Division reversed and remitted for a hearing into whether the prosecutor’s office had had knowledge of the civil suit.
Background: Garrett was convicted of killing a teenaged girl. The evidence against him included his confession which he claimed was false and coerced by the police. One of the police detectives involved in extracting the confession had been the subject of a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging misconduct in extracting a confession in an unrelated case. Garrett brought a pro se 440 arguing that the failure to disclose this information violated his due process rights under Brady v. Maryland. The 440 court denied the motion summarily solely by refusing to impute knowledge of the federal civil rights action to the prosecution. The Appellate Division reversed, and remitted the matter for a hearing into whether anyone who had a duty to disclose under Brady had knowledge of the information. The issue before the Court of Appeals was whether the prosecution’s failure to disclose violated Brady
Held: The prosecution’s non-disclosure did not violate Brady. While agreeing that the information would have been favorable impeachment material for the defense, the majority held that it was not suppressed by the prosecution. The Court adopted a rule that a police officer’s secret knowledge of his own misconduct in an unrelated case cannot be imputed to the prosecution and the People have no obligation to inquire of individual officers about their potential misconduct or search for such information in public records. The Court went on to address the issue of materiality although it was not addressed by the hearing court and therefore review was arguably barred by People v. LaFontaine, 92 N.Y.2d 470 (1998). With respect to materiality, the court found that the defense had attempted to impeach the interrogating officer with prior bad acts in other cases and had been unsuccessful in doing so and the defense had failed to demonstrate what admissible evidence could have been found if the unrelated misconduct evidence had been disclosed. Moreover, another unsullied officer testified about the circumstances surrounding the confession and the remaining evidence was not weak rendering disclosure unlikely to have impacted the outcome.
CAL observes: This case is the latest by the Court illustrating a disturbing tendency to apply the materiality standard in a manner favorable to the prosecution in excusing the failure to disclose evidence acknowledged as favorable to the defense. Also of concern is the muddling of the LaFontaine doctrine, which Justice Smith, in a concurring opinion, observed with apparent satisfaction had been overruled by the majority’s decision.