Let’s Make Brady v. Maryland Meaningful
The Brooklyn District Attorney has promised to review 50 convictions that relied on the work of police detective Louis Scarcella – linked to “troubling aspects” of one case that was recently overturned.
The newly established Conviction Integrity Unit will review all of the cases where Scarcella was the lead detective and where the police investigation culminated in a conviction after trial.
The New York Times reported that Scarcella relied on a single eyewitness to make at least a dozen cases. The witness was known to be a drug-addicted prostitute who claimed to have seen multiple different murders happen before her eyes.
We applaud DA Hynes for establishing a Conviction Integrity Unity, and for focusing on the work of Scarcella. However, we believe that broader interpretation of the Brady rule would have prevented these convictions and could prevent other miscarriages of justice going forward. Any time a police informant takes the stand, the prosecution should be required to discover and disclose not just a witness’s prior record and the benefit expected in exchange for testimony (that information is required to be disclosed now – pursuant to the current conservative interpretation of Brady), but also information about all the other cases where the informant has testified in the past. If defense counsel had been told that Scarcella’s informant had traveled around Brooklyn spotting murders, counsel might have argued to the jury that the informant’s testimony was simply not credible. The prosecution might have reached that same conclusion on its own. But, since Scarcella was not required to enlighten the prosecution regarding the informant’s special history, the prosecution could turn a blind eye and keep defense counsel in the dark too. A broader reading of the Brady obligation would put a stop to such willful ignorance.
Read the New York Times May 19, 2013 editorial on Brady here:
- Conviction Integrity Unit by the Innocence Project (Mar. 26, 2013)
- Brooklyn district attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit reviews possible wrong verdicts to make sure they got it right by Denis Hamill (Daily News, Mar. 25, 2013)
- Brooklyn Prosecutor Says 50 Convictions Under New Scrutiny by Pervaiz Shallvani (Wall Street Journal, May 12. 2013)