Saturday, February 4, 2012
It's So Juvenile: 6th Circuit Finds Failure To Disclose Juvenile Adjudication Could Have Violated Brady But Didn't
Ohio Rule of Evidence 609(D) provides that "[e]vidence of juvenile adjudications is not admissible except as provided by statute enacted by the General Assembly." So, let's say that the State fails to disclose that a witness for the prosecution has a juvenile adjudication. Can this failure to disclose form the basis for a Brady violation because the adjudication constitutes material exculpatory evidence? According to the recent opinon of the Sixth Circuit in Wogenstahl v. Mitchell, 2012 WL 310819 (6th Cir. 2012), the answer is "yes."
In Wogenstahl, Jeffrey Wogenstahl was convicted of aggravated murder with death specifications. After he unsuccessfully appealed at the state court level in Ohio, Wogenstahl filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal district court in Ohio. After the district court denied his petition, Wogenstahl appealed to the Sixth Circuit.
One of the grounds for Wogenstahl's petition was that the State violated its obligations under Brady because it failed to disclose that Justin Horn, a witness for the prosecution, had a juvenile adjudication for marijuana trafficking. The State countered that evidence of the adjudication was inadmissible under Ohio Rule of Evidence 609(D), meaning that it could not be material for Brady purposes.
The Sixth Circuit, being one of the courts that holds that inadmissible evidence can never be material for Brady purposes, agreed with the State's argument in theory but found that evidence of the adjudication could have been admissible. According to the court,
Under Ohio's evidence rules, "[e]vidence of juvenile adjudications is not admissible except as provided by statute enacted by the General Assembly."...."Where the submission of the juvenile adjudication is done merely to disclose that the adjudication exists in order to denigrate the juvenile's general credibility, the juvenile adjudication is inadmissible."...However, "juvenile adjudications may be said to contradict or impeach specific testimony of a witness as opposed to a general attack on the [witness's] credibility."...Because Horn's marijuana trafficking adjudication was directly relevant to Wogenstahl's account of his visit to Garrett's apartment, the adjudication was likely admissible under Ohio law.
Nonetheless, the Sixth Circuit still found that evidence of the juvenile adjudication was not material and thus agreed with the denial of Wogenstahl's petition.