Prosecutorial Misconduct

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted review in a murder case where Virginia prosecutors hid exculpatory evidence and defied a federal judge in a death-penalty case. This could be a pivotal moment for the enforcement of the “Brady Rule.”

The case, Wolfe v. Clarke, has had a long and complicated history since the murder was committed on March 15, 2001. Here are the facts:

  • After the murder, police promptly arrested Owen Barber, who was the suspected shooter. The police were convinced Barber was hired to kill by the defendant, Justin Michael Wolfe.
  • State officials withheld from Wolfe’s defense team material that would have helped the defense impeach Barber’s credibility.
  • Later in the case, the prosecution “choreographed and coordinated witness testimony” to make it hide the relationship between Barber and the deceased and statements made by Barber, according to the judge’s conclusion.

According to an article by Andrew Cohen from The Atlantic, “They didn't just hide material evidence from Wolfe. They didn't just tamper with witness testimony. They then sought to hide their misdeeds by arguing, over and over again, that it was everyone else who was lying under oath. That the only credible story was the one they were spinning.”

Under the “Brady Rule,” set forth in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), state prosecutors had an absolute duty to disclose materially exculpatory evidence in the government’s possession to the defense.

My view: The courts have done very little to prevent cases like these happening. I am looking to Justice Sotomayor, who is one of two current members on the Supreme Court who were former prosecutors, to set a precedent with their upcoming decision. If the Supreme Court is too lenient with this case, we could see much more misconduct go unpunished and the guarantee of a fair-trial be eviscerated. It is simply unacceptable.