A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

By Burt Rose

On November 30, 2011, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided Com. v. Walker, 2011 WL 5966253, No. 480 CAP. In this capital appeal, Appellant claimed, inter alia, that the Commonwealth violated his due process rights and Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), by withholding the victim’s criminal history from the defense.

A prosecutor has an obligation to disclose all exculpatory information material to the guilt or punishment of an accused, including evidence of an impeachment nature. To establish a Brady violation, an appellant must demonstrate that the evidence at issue was favorable to him, because it was either exculpatory or could have been used for impeachment, the prosecution either willfully or inadvertently suppressed the evidence, and prejudice ensued. The evidence at issue must have been material evidence that deprived the defendant of a fair trial. Favorable evidence is material if there is a reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceeding would have been different.

The Appellant argued that this evidence would have been helpful to his defense, as it supported his claim that the victim was the aggressor. He contended that trial counsel asked the Commonwealth to disclose the victim’s criminal history and was told there was none; however, the Appellant contended that the victim had an extensive criminal history involving assaultive behavior. The PCRA court held this issue was meritless, as the victim’s arrest record would have been inadmissible at trial because, at the time of the shooting, the victim had not been convicted of any of these charges.

Justice Eakin wrote for the Court and affirmed the denial of this claim by the lower court based on its holding that the victim’s arrest record would have been inadmissible at trial. However, the Supreme Court specifically noted that it is currently reviewing the issue of whether Brady’s materiality requirement is satisfied where the undisclosed evidence would not have been admissible at trial. See Commonwealth v. Willis, 968 A.2d 224, 225 (Pa.2009).

Billy Nolas, Esq. represented the Appellant, which prompted Chief Justice Castille, in a concurring opinion, to once again display significant annoyance at the Federal Defenders for becoming involved in a state court appeal.

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