United States v. Agurs

PETITIONER:United States
LOCATION:North Carolina State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 75-491
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 427 US 97 (1976)
ARGUED: Apr 28, 1976
DECIDED: Jun 24, 1976

Mr. Andrew L. Frey – for petitioner
Edwin J. Bradley – for respondent

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Agurs

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – April 28, 1976 in United States v. Agurs

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 24, 1976 in United States v. Agurs

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in 75-312, Young against American Mini Theatres and the judgment and opinion in 75-491, United States against Agurs will each be announced by Mr. Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

In 75-491, the Agurs case, the case is here from the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia.

Three months after a jury found the respondent guilty of murdering a man named Sewell, respondent’s lawyer learned that Sewell had a criminal record which if it had been called to the attention of the jury, might have supported the argument that respondent had killed Sewell in self defense.

Respondent therefore moved for a new trial claiming that the failure of the prosecutor voluntarily to provide defense counsel with Sewell’s prior criminal record deprived the respondent of a fair trial.

The District Court denied the motion.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed holding in substance that the information might have affected the jury’s appraisal of the case.

This Court granted certiorari.

In an opinion filed with the clerk we know that this not a case in which there is any claim that the conviction rests on perjured testimony or that the prosecutor failed to respond to a specific request for information.

In a case such as this in which the only claimed breach of duty by the prosecutor was a failure to volunteer exculpatory information to the defendant.

We hold that material information must be delivered by the prosecutor to the defense, but that the test of materiality is whether such information gives rise to a reasonable doubt about the guilt of the defendant that would not otherwise exist.

Since the district judge in this case made it clear that he had no doubt about respondent’s guilt and that Sewell’s prior criminal record was merely cumulative of information already disclosed by the record, he properly denied the motion for a new trial. Accordingly we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstate the conviction.

Mr. Justice Marshall has filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Brennan joins.