The problem with Brady v. Maryland, as many have argued, is that its effectiveness depends entirely on the charity and goodwill of prosecutors who are tasked with enforcing it. The only sword hanging over prosecutors’ head, forcing them to do “the right thing” is one that brings as its punishment obscure and vague references to the office they work in, buried deep in mildly reproachful appellate decisions. A vague notion called the “interests of justice” and pithy phrases reminding them that their job isn’t to “seek convictions” do little encourage them to fulfill their Constitutional obligation.
The only incentive – financial loss – was vilely struck down by SCOTUS in a decision (Harry “I’m the singer’s father” Connick v. Thompson) authored by Justice Thomas (who, in the words of one commentator, just doesn’t give a fuck). And Thomas seems to have a 20 year love affair with the crooner’s father, as evidenced by his joining the dissent in Kyles v. Whitley, another case highlighting the failure of Connick’s office to turn over exculpatory material, the aforementioned Connick v. Thompson, and his lone dissent in yesterday’s Smith v. Cain [PDF] – another Connick special.
Smith was about the prosecutor’s failure to turn over police notes that significantly undermined the testimony of the only witness against Smith. From this Slate article:
notes from the detective stating that the eyewitness said on the night of the murder that he “could not … supply a description of the perpetrators other then [sic] they were black males.” Again, five days after the crime, the ostensible eyewitness said he “could not ID anyone because [he] couldn’t see faces” and “would not know them if [he] saw them.” The detective wrote these statements down—and then wrote down “Could not ID.” It’s understandable that the eyewitness was, as he later said, “too scared to look at anybody” under the circumstances. But usually police know that a person who didn’t see a face is not an eyewitness at all.
And this was a “witness” who went on to testify with absolute conviction that Smith was, indeed, the perpetrator and he’d seen him face to face. Perhaps recognizing, albeit not acknowledging, that there may be such a thing as a Connick special, SCOTUS took cert. soon after Thompson and in brief, terse and matter-of-fact 4 page 8-1 opinion summarily reversed Smith’s conviction.
8-1. A lone dissent. Thomas authored a 17 page dissent extolling the virtues of eyewitness testimony and the jury’s function of determining the reliability of that testimony. Garbage. He knows it, I know it, his four conservative colleagues on the bench know it and don’t you fall for it. A jury can, I suppose, effectively evaluate the reliability and believability of a witness’ testimony, but only if that jury has all the relevant information before it from which to reach that conclusion. Hiding the fact that the only witness had several times claimed that he could not ID anyone hardly seems non-material.
That Thomas continues to ply this nonsense is not a testament – nor should it be – to the decline of the value of The Court, but rather a telling indictment of his abandonment of any modicum of intellectual honesty. In other words, he just doesn’t give a fuck anymore. Unfortunately, in doing so, he is fast making his presence on the Court a joke and, in the process, devaluing the institution.
A day after the Court issued Smith, it issued Perry v. New Hampshire [PDF], a case that had incorrectly been called the next step in the development of eyewitness identification jurisprudence. The issue in Perry was far more limited and not a review of lineup procedures in of themselves. Here‘s a nice article by the same fellow who wrote the Slate piece above on the juxtaposition of the two cases.