Many people have heard about “Varsity Blues”, which is a federal criminal case handled in Boston that alleges lots of wealthy parents basically paid for advantages to get their children into college. When the case broke and virtually all commentators were assuming that the Defendants were guilty, I posted about how everybody needs to take a chill pill and let the criminal defense lawyers do their work. Stories over the past two days seem to show that my warning was on the mark. These developments show that the criminal defense attorneys have demonstrated that prosecutors may be violating the “Brady” decision. Brady was a Supreme Court case that says prosecutors violate our revered Fifth Amendment if they refuse to turn over “exculpatory” evidence, meaning evidence tending to show that the accused person is not guilty of the crime.
The Brady case was from long ago, when I was a mere lad of 7 or so. What happened was that Mr. Brady was charged with murder, along with another man named Boblit. Brady acknowledged he was present but claimed he was not the one who killed the victim. Brady’s lawyers asked for all of Boblit’s statements, but prosecutors held back one statement in which Boblit admitted he was the shooter. The U.S. Supreme Court said that prosecutors violate the Constitution when, after a request from the defense, they hold back and do not turn over “exculpatory” information, meaning, they fail to tell defense lawyers about evidence that tends to show the accused person is either not guilty or guilty of a crime with lesser punishment.
In the current high-profile Varsity Blues case, prosecutors allege that wealthy parents paid a man named Singer to basically grease the skids and get their otherwise unqualified kids into high-end colleges and universities. One way Singer supposedly did this was to help position the kids as athletes who fit into what the school needed for its teams, such as a coxswain on the rowing team and the like.
Some of the Defendants have pled guilty, while others adamantly maintain their innocence. These non-pleading parents claim that Singer told them the money they gave to him was for legitimate purposes. Lawyers for these parents say that prosecutors possess, but refuse to turn over, evidence confirming this defense. As noted in one of the pleadings, “The Government appears to be concealing exculpatory evidence that helps show that both Defendants believed all of the payments they made would go to USC itself — for legitimate, university-approved purposes — or to other legitimate charitable causes. The Government’s failure to disclose this information is unacceptable, and this Court should put a stop to it,” the defense lawyers wrote in documents recently filed in Boston federal court.
I look forward to following this case. I also remind everyone to stop jumping to conclusions when prosecutors trot out a case and make some high-profile arrests. A recent movie shows the danger of this approach, just ask Richard Jewel’s mother.