The role of a defense attorney is not simply to argue their client’s innocence, it is also to make sure that they receive a fair trial and due process as guaranteed by the Constitution. Procedure is important, and sometimes a case is not decided on the facts, but the manner in which those facts are presented, such as a Brady violation. The recent trial of alleged Inauguration Day rioters shows this clearly.
What Is A Brady Violation?
Brady violation refers to an infringement of the constitutional principles affirmed in the case Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). This landmark case dealt with John L. Brady, who was tried and convicted for the murder of an acquaintance. Brady claimed that he had not committed the murder himself. He testified that he was involved in a robbery that lead to the killing, but it was his accomplice Charles Boblit who had committed the murder, which Brady never wanted to happen. Brady was found guilty of the murder and sentenced to death, but later learned he had not received a fair trial. Prior to the trial, the prosecution acquired a statement from Boblit which confirmed Brady’s story: Brady never intended to kill, only commit robbery, and it was Boblit alone who committed the murder.
Brady appealed the case and eventually reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in a 7-2 vote that the state prosecutors had violated the due process clause of the 14th Amendment by not revealing exculpatory evidence to the defense. Writing for the court, Justice William Douglas found “that the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution.” The precedent was set and continues to apply today.
In what amounted to a major setback for the United States Attorney’s Office’s case against dozens of Inauguration Day rioters, federal prosecutors dropped charges against eight more defendants allegedly involved in violent demonstrations on January 20, 2017. Six of the defendants were set to be tried on June 25,2018, while the other two were part of separate trial groups set for later in the year.
The defendants’ motion to dismiss came after federal prosecutors failed to provide potentially exculpatory video evidence to the defense for the May 25, 2018, trial of a different group of protesters. Superior Court Chief Judge Morin deemed this an unconstitutional Brady violation and dismissed the charges of conspiracy against those defendants— one of which was represented by Bruckheim & Patel. Prosecutors argued that they disclosed all evidence to defense counsel. However, it came to light that the prosecutor’s had more evidence than they claimed, which was not disclosed. Judge Morin’s ruling dealt a serious blow to the prosecution’s case, and the second trial ended in acquittals and mistrials for all of the defendants. Those who have been following this case may remember that a jury acquitted all defendants in the first Inauguration riot trial last year.
These setbacks for the prosecution do not signal the end of the case, however, as the government has yet to try dozens of individuals they claim planned or participated in the Inauguration Day Riots. In those upcoming trials, one thing is certain: procedural matters, well, matter. After all, the prosecution’s case in the second trial was hamstrung by a procedural matter—the Brady violation— before a jury was even picked.
And it was that failure to turn over such evidence that has played such a large role in the Inauguration riot case. This highlights the importance of having a defense attorney that knows procedural rules like the back of their hand. Fortunately, for the second trial group in this case, they did, and their constitutional right to a fair trial was protected.