EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee Finds Brady Violation Based on State's Failure to Disclose (for 2.5 Years) Victim's E-Mail Saying the Defendant Didn't Rape Her

In Brady v. Maryland, the United States Supreme Court held that the State has an affirmative obligation under the Due Process Clause to timely disclose material exculpatory evidence. There is a ton of precedent analyzing when evidence is material and exculpatory. Conversely, there is sparse case law regarding what is "timely" disclosure. But Thursday's opinion of the Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee in State v. Allen addressed this latter question.

In Allen,

On June 18, 2015, Lawrence Eugene Allen, Defendant, was arrested for aggravated rape and domestic assault of his wife, Kimberly Allen. The charges were based primarily on Ms. Allen’s statement to Detective Dustin Fait that Defendant struck her and penetrated her with his hand. On June 22, 2015, the day before the original setting of the preliminary hearing, Ms. Allen sent two emails to Detective Fait. In the first email, Ms. Allen stated that Defendant did not rape her. She claimed that she had a consensual sexual encounter with an unknown man in his vehicle outside a bar in Nashville during the early morning hours of June 18, 2015. After numerous continuances, a preliminary hearing was finally held on March 18, 2016. The State did not disclose the emails to Defendant before the preliminary hearing. Both Ms. Allen and Detective Fait testified at the preliminary hearing and were cross-examined by defense counsel. Neither witness mentioned Ms. Allen’s emails or her recantation of the rape allegation. A few days after the preliminary hearing, Ms. Allen was murdered. The murder was unrelated to this case or to Defendant. The emails were finally disclosed to Defendant when the State provided discovery on December 21, 2017.

Specifically, the first email stated

Detective Fait, I have left a couple of messages since Friday, but I have not heard back, so I thought I would follow-up with an email. I have replayed the events of last Wednesday a million times. [Defendant] did not rape me. After I left him, I went to another bar called TNT[s] in Nashville. I stupidly got into a vehicle with a guy from the bar. I do not know his name. He removed my panties and used his hands to penetrate me vaginally and anally. I can’t remember if I said no at the time. I was very intoxicated. I know that when I realized what was going on, I got out of the car and came home. [Defendant] was angry because he found my panties in my purse, but he did not rape me. I have received my subpoena for Wednesday. I will be there at 1:00 p.m. Thanks. Kim[berly] Allen.

The court had no difficulty concluding that this e-mail was material and exculpatory. But was its disclosure untimely? The court answered this question in the affirmative, finding that

In this case, what Ms. Allen stated in the first email—that Defendant did not rape her and that another man did—could not have simply been a mistake made by Ms. Allen. Ms. Allen was either telling the truth or lying in that email. If she was telling the truth in the email, then she was lying in her preliminary hearing testimony. If she was telling the truth in her testimony, she was lying in her email. Because the prosecution suppressed the obviously exculpatory first email until after Ms. Allen’s death, Defendant was never able to question Ms. Allen about its veracity....

Here, the emails were obviously exculpatory, and the State had a duty to disclose them without a request by Defendant. Although the State provided the emails in discovery before trial, it suppressed the emails for over two years during which time Ms. Allen died.



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