The United States Supreme Court heard a case recently dealing with the appeal of a death-row inmate from Louisiana. The Defendant, Juan Smith, argued that the Prosecutors wrongfully withheld favorable evidence from Smith's lawyers during the course of his trial. The well-known precedent set by the Supreme Court nearly 50 years ago of Brady v. Maryland requires the prosecution to disclose any evidence that is material to a defendant's guilt or innocence.
Smith argued for a new trial due to the withholding of evidence. What is interesting about his case is that it involves prosecutors from New Orleans. According to Smith's lawyers, courts have overturned 4 death sentences due to violations of Brady. In fact, this case involves prosecutors who worked for Harry Connick, Sr., a prosecutor who has already gone before the Supreme Court with allegations of misconduct. An opinion issued by the Supreme Court in March involved the question of whether prosecutors can be held civilly liable for their misconduct. That case involved Harry Connick Sr. and whether he adequately trained his staff to turn over evidence to defense attorneys. The defendant in the criminal case, John Thompson, spent 14 years on death row before being exonerated. He successfully sued the prosecutor's officer and received a $14 Million award.
The Supreme Court stripped Mr. Thompson of his award, holding that he failed to prove a pattern of deliberate indifference by the prosecutor's office. One instance of misconduct was not enough to hold the prosecutors liable.
While Juan Smith is only arguing for a new trial, if the court grants it, will that provide enough examples of deliberate indifference? Will Harry Connick, Sr. and his office survive another civil liability suit? It should be interesting, but the Supreme Court will first decide whether Smith deserves a new trial.