Smith v. Cain - Oral Argument - November 08, 2011

Smith v. Cain

Media for Smith v. Cain

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 10, 2012 in Smith v. Cain

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 08, 2011 in Smith v. Cain

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

We'll hear argument next this morning in Case 10-8145, Smith v. Cain.

Mr. Shanmugam.

Kannon K. Shanmugam:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

In Brady v. Maryland, this Court established the now-familiar principle that the prosecution must hand over all favorable material evidence to the defense before trial.

This case presents a flagrant violation of that principle.

The Orleans Parish district attorney's office produced almost no relevant evidence to the defense before Petitioner's trial, and Petitioner was convicted of first degree murder based solely on the testimony of a single eyewitness.

Unbeknownst to the defense, however, that eyewitness had told the police on multiple occasions that he could not identify any of the perpetrators or, as he put it, that he would not know them if he saw them.

The suppression of those statements alone justifies a new trial, but the district attorney's office in this case also engaged in the wholesale suppression of statements of numerous other witnesses, statements that further undermined the sole eyewitness identification of Petitioner and, more broadly, cast doubt on Petitioner's involvement and role in the shooting.

If all of that information had been disclosed to the defense before trial, the jury surely would have viewed this case in a completely different light.

The trial court therefore erred by rejecting Petitioner's Brady claim, and its judgment should be reversed.

In our view, in order to conclude that Petitioner is entitled to a new trial here, this Court need do nothing more than to consider the suppressed statements of the key eyewitness, Larry Boatner.

Respondent concedes that those statements were withheld from the defense before trial, and argues only that the failure to disclose those statements was not prejudicial.

Those statements, however, could not have more clearly contradicted Boatner's confident identification of Petitioner at trial--

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Wasn't there a picture?

Boatner saw a picture in the newspaper and that turned on the light for him; right?

It wasn't any police suggestion?

Kannon K. Shanmugam:

--That is correct.

The basis for Boatner's identification was that he saw a photograph in the New Orleans newspaper of Petitioner.

It was in connection with an article describing the shootings and suggesting that Petitioner was one of the suspects in the case.

And that was what led to his prior identification out of court.

But just to be clear, Justice Ginsburg, we are not arguing today that the identification was somehow constitutionally problematic.

At most, we are arguing that the identification was of questionable validity in light of the fact that Boatner had only a limited opportunity to see the perpetrators and in light of the circumstances that led to his identification.

Now, even if his identification were more clearly reliable, our argument today would be the same.

In a case such as this one, in which the sole basis for linking the defendant to the crime is the testimony of a single eyewitness, and there is evidence that the single eyewitness said on multiple occasions that he couldn't identify anyone, we believe that, absent extraordinary circumstances, that will be sufficient to--

Samuel A. Alito, Jr.:

Well, aren't you exaggerating a little bit about the value of the impeachment evidence regarding Boatner?

My understanding is that he made his first statement to the effect that he couldn't identify anybody at the scene, when he had been at the scene where five people that he knew very well had been killed.

He was lying on the floor with a big gash on his head.

He was questioned at the scene, and at that time -- this was in the evening -- he said: I can't identify anybody.

But then later that very day, wasn't it?

That very evening, after midnight, he was questioned at the police station.