Sunday, August 15, 2021
Sixth Circuit Finds Prosecutor Had No Duty to Learn About Department of Corrections Mental Health Records For State's Witness
Pursuant to Brady v. Maryland, the State has an affirmative obligation under the Due Process Clause to timely disclose material exculpatory evidence to the defense. Moreover, Kyles v. Whitley stands for the proposition that an"individual prosecutor has a duty to learn of any favorable evidence known to the others acting on the government's behalf in the case, including the police." So, does that duty to learn include a duty to learn about mental health records kept by a department of corrections concerning a key witness for the prosecution? That was the question addressed by the Sixth Circuit in its recent opinion in Hall v. Mays, 2021 WL 3355480 (6th Cir. 2021).
In Hall, Jon Hall appealed his conviction for the murder of his estranged wife, Billie Jo.
In his Brady claim, Hall asserted that the prosecutor withheld prison records for state witness Chris Dutton that would have impeached Dutton's testimony by showing his long history of mental illness....The district court found that Dutton's prison records were never actually in the prosecutor's possession because they were records of the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC), which was not an agency acting under the prosecutor's control, so the prosecutor did not know about them, actually or constructively. Hall argued that the prosecutor had a duty to investigate, discover, obtain, and disclose the TDOC's records because Dutton was an inmate and a state witness, but the district court disagreed, finding that Brady does not impose such an unlimited duty to pursue that type of inquiry with uninvolved government agencies. The district court found that, because Hall had “not allege[d]...any connection between the TDOC and the prosecution in the investigation of this case, and none [wa]s apparent from the record,” it had “no basis for imputing knowledge of the mental health information in Dutton's TDOC records to the prosecution.”
The Sixth Circuit affirmed. It held that
In his appellate briefing, Hall argues that Kyles required the prosecutor to learn of Dutton's mental health records from the TDOC (and disclose them to Hall) because the TDOC was either acting on the prosecutor's behalf or the TDOC and the prosecution were working together to hold Hall in custody, convict him, and incarcerate him-given that the TDOC conveyed Dutton's offer of testimony to the prosecutor and coordinated his attendance as a prosecution witness at Hall's trial. But, in the district court, Hall “d[id] not allege...any connection between the TDOC and the prosecution in the investigation of this case, and none [wa]s apparent from the record,” so the district court found “no basis for imputing knowledge of the mental health information in Dutton's TDOC records to the prosecution.” As a finding of fact, this was not clearly erroneous and we have no basis to disturb it. As a legal theory, Hall forfeited this theory by failing to raise it to the district court....But, even assuming he had raised and preserved it, Hall does not cite any Supreme Court or Sixth Circuit precedent holding that the relationship between the jailor and the prosecutor is analogous to that between the police and the prosecutor, see Kyles, 514 U.S. at 437, 115 S.Ct. 1555, such that the jailor necessarily acts on the prosecutor's behalf by incarcerating the defendant during trial, conveying a message from an inmate, or transporting the defendant and inmate-witness to trial.