D.C. Case Could Affect Prosecutor Disclosures

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In 1984, Catherine Fuller was killed in an alley a few blocks from her home in Washington, D.C. More than a dozen people were indicted in connection with the murder, and more than 30 years later the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments over whether prosecutors withheld information from the defense that could have changed the outcome of the trial, Buzz Feed News reports. The justices delved into the finer points of the evidence yesterday. The case could result in a decision with broader implications for how courts decide if prosecutors violated their obligation to turn over favorable information to defendants in criminal cases.

The Washington Post Magazine provides further background on the case.

It’s up to prosecutors to decide what evidence to disclose, and when defendants later accuse prosecutors of failing to meet that obligation, they must show that the evidence could have changed the outcome of the case, which can be difficult to prove. A federal appeals judge wrote in 2013 that there was an “epidemic” of prosecutors violating their disclosure obligations, which stem from the 1963 Supreme Court decision Brady v. Maryland. In Fuller’s case, eight of the 13 people indicted in connection with the murder were convicted of first-degree murder, three others pleaded guilty to lesser charges, and two were acquitted. The justices focused on the argument that prosecutors wrongly withheld information from defense lawyers about another man, James McMillan, who was seen in the alley around the time that Fuller’s body was discovered and was reportedly acting in a suspicious manner.

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