The Supreme Court yesterday reversed the murder conviction of Juan Smith of New Orleans because prosecutors failed to reveal that the sole eyewitness to the crime had earlier said he could not identify the killer, USA Today reports. Justice Clarence Thomas dissented in an 8-1 ruling. The case illustrates problems of prosecutors’ hiding evidence and the guarantee, stemming from a 1963 Supreme Court decision, that the government must turn over evidence favorable to a defendant.
“Evidence impeaching an eyewitness may not be material if the state’s other evidence is strong enough to sustain confidence in the verdict,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts. “That is not the case here.” Smith was charged with killing five people in a 1995 armed robbery of a home. A single eyewitness, Larry Boatner, connected Smith to the killings. On appeal, Smith obtained files that showed that Boatner had told police on the night of the killings that he “could not ID anyone because (he) couldn’t see faces.” Prosecutors had not turned over a detective’s report of that information to Smith before trial.