Tuesday, July 16, 2013
It has been fascinating/disturbing to see just how much the media has gotten wrong throughout the course of the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case and its aftermath. The biggest error, of course, has been the focus on Stand Your Ground laws when Florida's Stand Your Ground law was not invoked by the defense. Then, there were the minutes/hours/days after the judge's ruling during which many did not realize that the judge had ruled that the defense could use its animation as demonstrative evidence. Now, in the aftermath of the jury verdict, we have more misreporting, this time concerning the defense's motion against the prosecution based upon alleged Brady violations.
As reported here and elsewhere, the defense is moving for sanctions against the government based upon failure to timely disclose evidence in compliance with the Supreme Court's opinion in Brady v. Maryland. Brady states that the prosecution has a duty to timely disclose to the defendant material exculpatory evidence. Material evidence is evidence that has a reasonable probability of producing a different outcome at trial.
According to the defense, the prosecution failed to timely disclose, inter alia,
embarrassing photos on Martin's phone that included pictures of a clump of jewelry on a bed, underage nude females, marijuana plants and a hand holding a semi-automatic pistol.
The prosecution has responded that the offending party was its information technology director, Ben Kruidbos, who has since been fired.
So, was there a Brady violation? This article makes the answer seem to be a clear "yes." It quotes Mark O'Mara as saying that the failure to timely disclose the phone evidence was "an undeniable Brady violation." It also notes that
The law requires prosecutors to share evidence with defense attorneys, especially if it helps exonerate defendants. The requirement is known as the Brady disclosure.
That's just terrible reporting. You can't have an entire article focused on an alleged Brady violation and misstate the law this badly. The first sentence should read, "The law requires prosecutors to share evidence with defense attorneys but only if it helps [materially] exonerate defendants." There is no obligation under Brady to disclose inculpatory evidence, and there is no obligation to disclose non-material exculpatory evidence.
I would likely characterize the phone evidence as non-material exculpatory evidence. First, there is a good chance that the evidence was inadmissible. Simply put, it is likely inadmissible character evidence, and some of it, like the pictures of underage nude females, had no connection to the issues at trial. Many courts state that inadmissible evidence can never be "material" for Brady purposes. Florida courts actually do find that inadmissible evidence can be "material" for Brady purposes if "the evidence would lead to admissible substantive or impeachment evidence." Duest v. State, 12 So.3d 734 (Fla. 2009). That said, I simply don't see how the phone evidence described would have led to any admissible evidence that would have helped Zimmerman.
Second, even if the phone evidence were somehow admissible, I don't see how it really would have helped Zimmerman. Again, the nude photos had no relation to trial. The defense already presented evidence about Martin's drug use, so the picture(s) of the marijuana plants wouldn't have helped them any more. The fact that Martin once held a pistol seems meaningless considering that Martin didn't have a gun during the encounter. And I'm not sure what inference I'm supposed to draw from the jewelry.
The best thing that could have come from the trial was accurate reporting and and honest dialogue about the way that minorities, and especially minority men, are treated by the criminal justice system. Instead, the misreporting regarding the trial has distorted the issues and led to a focus on the wrong things.