Turner v. United States

PETITIONER: Charles S. Turner, et al.
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 15-1503
DECIDED BY:
LOWER COURT: District of Columbia Court of Appeals

CITATION: US ()
GRANTED: Dec 14, 2016

Facts of the case

In 1984, the body of Catherine Fuller was discovered in an alley. She had clearly been badly beaten and raped. The police were unable to recover physical evidence that would identify the perpetrators, and the medical examiner was unable to determine how many people were involved. After investigating and conducting over 400 interviews, the police developed a theory that Fuller had been assaulted and killed by a large group of teens who had originally set out to rob her. A total of 13 teens were initially indicted and two of them, Harry Bennett and Calvin Alston, pled guilty and agreed to testify for the government. These two witnesses agreed on the outline of events but differed significantly on some of the details. Turner and several of the other defendants put forth alibi defenses, but some of their alibis conflicted with each other. The jury found Turner and nine of the other defendants guilty, and their convictions were affirmed on direct appeal.

Nearly 25 years later, Turner and several of the other original defendants moved to have their sentences vacated and claimed that they had not received fair trials because the government had withheld exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, which established that it was a violation of due process for the prosecution to suppress evidence favorable to the defense that is material to either guilt or punishment. Additionally, Turner and the other defendants argued that newly discovered evidence, including the recantations of Bennett and Alston, established that they were actually innocent of the crime. The trial court denied the motion, and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed because Turner and the other former defendants had not shown a reasonable probability that the outcome of their trials would have been different had the government disclosed the evidence in question and that the new evidence established their actual innocence by a preponderance of the evidence. The Supreme Court consolidated this case with another suit by one of the other original defendants.

Question

Does Brady v. Maryland, which established that it was a violation of the defendant’s due process for the prosecution to suppress or withhold evidence that is favorable to the defendant and is material to guilt or punishment, require that the convictions in this case be overturned?

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