The People v. Rong He
Issue before the Court: Did the prosecution violate Brady by failing to disclose contact information of potential key witnesses?
CAL Observes: The defendant in Rong He was convicted after the prosecution refused to disclose a key witness’s contact information. The Court of Appeals held that the prosecution’s refusal “to provide any means for defense counsel to contact the witnesses other than through the prosecution itself” amounted to suppression of the information. The Court found the information “clearly favorable to the defense” and held that there was a “reasonable possibility” that investigation into the suppressed witness information would have affected the trial. The prosecution violated Brady.
The Court of Appeals gets a lot wrong these days. But it got Rong right. The Court’s recent Brady precedent has been a mixed bag, especially when it comes to materiality. In one prior case, People v. Giuca, the Court found no “reasonable possibility” (the relaxed materiality standard) that some pretty damning impeachment evidence would have affected a trial. In another case, however, People v. Ulett, there was a “reasonable probability” (the more stringent standard) that some grainy video surveillance, if disclosed, would have made a difference. It’s not hard to see this Court coming out against the defendant in Rong He, finding too speculative and remote the possibility that merely disclosing a witness’s contact information would ultimately impact the trial. The decision gives us some hope that the lenient “reasonable possibility” standard for materiality is actually as defense-favorable as it sounds.