Kyles v. Whitley

PETITIONER: Curtis Lee Kyles
RESPONDENT: John P. Whitley
LOCATION: Schwegmann’s Grocery Store

DOCKET NO.: 93-7927
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 514 US 419 (1995)
ARGUED: Nov 07, 1994
DECIDED: Apr 19, 1995
GRANTED: Apr 25, 1994

ADVOCATES:
James S. Liebman - on behalf of the Petitioner
Jack Peebles - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Curtis Lee Kyles was charged with murdering 60-year-old Delores Dye in a Schwegmann’s parking lot. After an initial trial with a hung jury, Kyles was tried again, convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to death. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the decision on direct appeal. Then Kyles sought state collateral review, where he was unsuccessful, but he uncovered evidence favorable to him that the prosecution failed to disclose before or during trial. Kyles filed a habeas corpus petition in federal district court, citing Brady v. Maryland, which held that the prosecution violates due process if they fail to disclose material evidence that is favorable to a criminal defendant. The district court denied relief, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed.

Question

(1) Would the prosecution’s production of evidence favorable to Kyles have resulted in acquittal or mistrial?

(2) Would the prosecution’s production of evidence favorable to Kyles have created sufficient doubt in the mind of at least one juror to result in a life sentence rather than the death penalty?

Media for Kyles v. Whitley

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 07, 1994 in Kyles v. Whitley

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 19, 1995 in Kyles v. Whitley

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the court in number 93-7927, Kyles against Whitley will be announced by Justice Souter.

David H. Souter:

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the Fifth Circuit.

In 1984, a woman was shot and killed in a grocery store parking lot in New Orleans.

Several days later, acting on an informant’s tip, the police arrested the petitioner Curtis Kyles for the murder.

The murder weapon and other incrementing physical evidence were later found at Kyles’ house.

After a first trial ended in a hung jury, Kyles was tried a second time convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death, his conviction in sentence were affirmed on direct appeal.

During state post conviction proceedings however, it was revealed that the prosecution failed to disclose to the defense many items of evidence favorable to Kyles.

Among other things that stated withheld eyewitness statements taken by the police soon after the shooting which revealed that the eyewitnesses differed significantly in their descriptions of the gunman.

The state, it also withheld a number of statements made to the police by the informant.

The statements contained significant inconsistencies and inculpatory remarks and could have been use to support Kyles’s argument that the informant was actually the murderer and had both the opportunity and the motive to plant the gun and the other evidence in Kyles's house.

After exhausting state avenues to relieve Kyles, review federal habeas.

He claimed that his conviction had been obtained in violation of this Court’s decision in Brady and Maryland, which held that the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to the accused violates to process where the evidence is material to guilt or punishment.

The District Court denied relief in the divided panel of the Fifth Circuit affirmed.

In an opinion filed with the clerk of court today we reverse the judgment of the Fifth Circuit and hold that Kyles is entitled to a new trial.

Considering the cumulative effect of all this suppressed evidence there is a reasonable probability that had the evidence been disclosed the results of the Kyles’s trial would have been different.

The State cannot avoid this result by arguing that the police failed to bring the favorable evidence to the prosecutor’s attention.

The suppressed evidence would have supported a powerful cross-examination of the State’s two best eyewitnesses.

It would have bolstered the defense argument that the informant was a real murderer and would have cast out on the thoroughness and reliability of the police investigation.

Justice Stevens has filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Ginsburg and Breyer joined and Justice Scalia has filed a dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy and Thomas joined.