United States v. Bagley

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Hughes Anderson Bagley
LOCATION: United States Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 84-48
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 473 US 667 (1985)
ARGUED: Mar 20, 1985
DECIDED: Jul 02, 1985
GRANTED: Nov 13, 1984

David A. Strauss - on behalf of the petitioner
Thomas W. Hillier, II - on behalf of the respondent, appointed by this Court

Facts of the case

In October 1977, Hughes Anderson Bailey was indicted on fifteen charges of violating federal narcotics and firearms statutes. The government’s two principal witnesses were James F. O’Connor and Donald E. Mitchell, private security guards. Between April and June 1977, they assisted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (“ATF”) in conducting an undercover investigation of Bagley. In response to a discovery request for information about any deals, promises or inducements made to O’Connor or Mitchell, the government produced only affidavits from each man stating that each spoke without any threats or rewards, or promises of reward. Bagley waived his right to a jury trial. At trial, O’Connor and Mitchell testified about the firearms and narcotics charges. On December 23, 1977, the court found Bagley guilty on the narcotics charges, but not the firearms charges.

In mid-1980, Bagley filed requests pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act and to the Privacy Act of 1974. He received copies of ATF form contracts, each entitled, “Contract for Purchase of Information and Payment of Lump Sum Therefor.” These contracts indicated that O’Connor and Mitchell provided information to the ATF and promised a future payment of $300 to each informer. Bagley moved to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, alleging that the government’s failure to disclose the contracts violated his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The motion came before the same district judge who presided at Bagley’s trial. At an evidentiary hearing, a magistrate found that neither informant expected payment for his testimony. In contrast, the district judge found that O’Connor and Mitchell probably expected to receive compensation for their assistance, and that the government suppressed evidence favorable to Bagley. He also concluded, however, that the disclosure would not have had an effect on the court’s verdict. He emphasized that Bagley’s counsel did not seek to discredit O’Connor or Mitchell on cross-examination. The United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, reversed, reasoning that the government’s failure to disclose required automatic reversal because it impaired Bagley’s Sixth Amendment right to confront adverse witnesses through effective cross-examination.


Must Bagley’s convictions for narcotics violations be set aside as a violation of due process because the government failed to disclose that two witnesses were impeachable, although the district judge determined that this failure did not affect the outcome of the case?

Media for United States v. Bagley

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 20, 1985 in United States v. Bagley

Warren E. Burger:

The Court will hear arguments first this morning in United States against Bagley.

Mr. Strauss, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

David A. Strauss:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, in this case the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit awarded respondent a new trial on the ground that the government had not disclosed to respondent certain documents in its files that respondent claims he could have used to impeach two government witnesses.

The issue concerns the standard of materiality that should be applied in determining whether such evidence is significant enough to require a new trial.

The respondent in this case was indicated in 1977 on multiple counts of violating federal narcotics and firearms statutes.

Before trial, respondent served on the government eleven broadly worded discovery requests.

Among those requests was the one that has now become the focus of the case, a request for any deals, promises, or inducements made to prospective government witnesses in exchange for their testimony.

In response to all the various discovery requests, the government gave the defense a large number of documents.

Now, respondent elected to waive a jury trial, and he was tried by District Judge Vorhees of the Western District of Washington.

Among the witnesses against him were two state law enforcement officers named O'Connor and Mitchell, who had witnessed criminal transactions involving respondent while they were operating in an undercover capacity.

O'Connor and Mitchell were supervised during the investigation of respondent by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, ATF.

At trial, O'Connor and Mitchell testified primarily about the firearms charges.

Now, after the seven-day trial, Judge Vorhees found respondent not guilty on the firearms charges, but guilty on the narcotics charges.

Some years later, respondent filed a Freedom of Information Act request, and he uncovered two form ATF contracts that had been signed by O'Connor and Mitchell before the trial, but that were not among the materials delivered by the government to the defense.

Respondent then brought this action for collateral relief under 28 USC 2255, alleging that if he had known of these form contracts at the time of the trial he could have used them to impeach O'Connor and Mitchell.

Respondent's 2255 motion came before Judge Vorhees.

The prosecutor testified at a hearing that he had been unaware of the form contracts, which apparently were in ATF files, and that if he had been aware of them, he would have given them to respondent.

Judge Vorhees found that well after the trial O'Connor and Mitchell were each paid $300 by ATF, but that the ATF form contracts were blank when O'Connor and Mitchell signed them, that no AFT representative signed them until after the trial, and that no government agent at any time had promised O'Connor or Mitchell compensation for his services or his testimony or anything else.

John Paul Stevens:

Mr. Strauss, may I interrupt?

You refer to these as form contracts.

They do have some typed information in them that I gather is tailor-made for the particular... for Mr. Bagley.

Was that not true?

David A. Strauss:

That is right, Justice Stevens.

There was a finding, however, that at the time they were signed by the witnesses, O'Connor and Mitchell, and in fact at the time of the trial the only thing typed into them was the unique identifier, a numerical code in the upper righthand corner.

John Paul Stevens:

Not even the name Mitchell?

David A. Strauss:

There was no finding about the name Mitchell.

I assume it was typed in at the time.

John Paul Stevens:

The language that he will provide information regarding T1 and other violations committed by Hughes A. Bagley and so forth, that was typed in after the trial?

David A. Strauss:

That is the finding.

John Paul Stevens:

I see.