In any criminal case, whether in Federal Court or one of the State Court systems, prosecutors are supposed to “play fair”. The Fifth Amendment to our dear Old Constitution enshrines this fairness obligation in what we lawyers call the “Due Process Clause.” Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the day in 1963 when the United State Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling of Brady v. Maryland. That was the case in which, for the first time, the Supreme Court said that the Due Process Clause mandates that a prosecutor play fair by telling the defense about any exculpatory evidence, or evidence that tends to show that the defendant was not guilty. However, as basic as this obligation seems to be, I often wonder if our clients are that much better off than 50 years ago.
Like defendants in many famous Supreme Court cases, John Brady was no saint. On June 27, 1958, he and Donald Boblit robbed and killed a man named William Brooks. Boblit quickly confessed that he had strangled Brooks to death, and that he acted alone. However, the prosecutors handling the case against John Brady never informed the defense attorneys about this confession and never turned over the transcript of Boblit’s remarks.