I'm out on the road today gathering some docs for a future post, for now take a look at this fantastic exchange from the SCOTUSBlog between New Orleans prosecutor Donna R. Andrieu and our nations Supreme Court regarding turning over Brady material...
There may be many ways for a lawyer to realize that an argument before the Supreme Court is falling flat, but none can top this: a Justice asking if the counsel had ever considered simply forfeiting the case. That is what happened on Tuesday to Donna R. Andrieu, an assistant district attorney in New Orleans, as her argument lay all about her, in shambles. It is a heavy burden for a lawyer from that oft-criticized office to mount any defense of its prosecutions, but Andrieu repeatedly found ways to botch virtually every point as she argued Smith v. Cain (docket 10-8145).
The case is the second before the Court in the past year to raise deep questions about the way the Orleans Parish office has prosecuted criminal cases, over a good many years.. And, near the end of Andrieu’s troubled argument, she was reminded of that history by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who seemed to be wondering whether the D.A.’s staff there would ever learn. In both this Term’s case and last, the issue was whether the prosecutors had failed in their constitutional duty, under Brady v. Maryland (1963), to turn over evidence that could help lawyers defend their clients.
The aggressive exchanges were getting to Andrieu, and the phrase “I’m sorry” began appearing regularly in her answers, as she suggested, now and then, that she had misunderstood the questions. As her argument was winding down, Justice Elena Kagan leaned forward and asked: “Ms. Andrieu, did your office ever consider just confessing error in this case?” Stunned, the prosecutor said: “I’m sorry?”
Imagine that? A prosecutor admitting to making a mistake??
Kagan repeated: “Did your office ever consider just confessing error in this case? You’ve had a bunch of time to think about it. Do you know? We took cert a while ago. I’m just wondering whether you’ve ever considered confessing error.” The prosecutor answered: “Your Honor, we believe that we have an argument that these statements of Larry Boatner are not material.”
It only got worse for Andrieu. Justice Antonin Scalia suggested that the prosecutor “stop fighting as to whether it should be turned over. Of course it should have been turned over…Why don’t you give that up?” The prosecutor again tried, astonishingly, to make one more effort to rehabilitate witness Boatner’s credibility.
At that point, it seemed that nothing more could embarrass the New Orleans prosecutor. But Justice Sotomayor then brought up the “serious accusations against the practices of your office, not yours in particular but prior ones. It is disconcerting to me that when I asked you the question directly should this material have been turned over, you gave an absolute no.” Andrieu weakly suggested that she had misunderstood the question.
But Sotomayor pressed on: “It is somewhat disconcerting that your office is still answering equivocally on a basic obligation as one that requires you to have turned these materials over, whether it caused harm or not.” Andrieu still did not seem to understand. She said that “today we turn all of this over….It should have been turned over. I guess what I was addressing or attempting to address was the materiality prong of Brady.”Unreal. Why is this concept of turning over exculpatory materials to the defense so hard for prosecutors to understand? They hold all the cards any way, why can't they simply abide by this simple requirement?