Wednesday, January 17, 2007

AD4: prosecutor's failure to turn over Brady material requires reversal

People v Harris, 2006 NY Slip Op 09787 [available here]

In a decision short on facts, the Fourth Department reversed Mr. Harris' robbery and attempted murder convictions based on the trial prosecutor's Brady violation. The decision only describes the violation as a failure to turn over "exculpatory material obtain by an investigator for the Monroe County District Attorney." (Harris, 2006 NY Slip Op 09787.) The decision does not describe the nature of the material withheld, but the briefs filed by the appellant and respondent at the Fourth Department fill in some of the blanks. Essentially, the shooting victim told his mother that "June" shot him, and mom testified to that effect at trial. In a surprise move, the People then called the victim's girlfriend, who testified that Mr. Harris was a classmate at Franklin High School, and that she knew him as "June." Thus, the girlfriend's testimony provided a critical link between the mom's testimony (that her son said "June" shot him) and Mr. Harris (who the girlfriend knew as "June" from their time together at Franklin High School).

Turns out, the District Attorney's office sent an investigator to Franklin High to interview the guards there in an attempt to confirm the girlfriend's story. The investigator wrote up a report detailing the results of the investigation--the guard interviewed stated flatly that Mr. Harris was never a student at Franklin, was never in the building, and was not one of the "Junes" who attended Franklin High School. The report was never turned over by the trial prosecutor (then Assistant District Attorney Clifford Owens). The existence of the investigator's report was not discovered until defense investigators interviewed the guard after the jury's guilty verdict.