10th Circuit Grants Habeas Relief for Brady Violation

By: Zachary M. Nielsen

In McCormick v. Parker (E. D. Okla.)(14-7095)(10-CV-00117-JHP-KEW), the 10th Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of petitioner’s writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The Court found that, under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), the state suppressed favorable and material evidence when it allowed a witness to testify falsely at trial. The witness testified falsely that she was a certified sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) and provided the only piece of direct evidence linking McCormick to the alleged sexual assaults. This violated McCormick’s due process rights.

Under a novel theory, borrowed from the California Court of Appeals, the Court found that for Brady purposes, the SANE nurse was a member of the prosecution’s team. See People v. Uribe, 76 Cal. Rptr. 3d 829, 832 (Cal. Ct. App. 2008). Thus, her knowledge of her own lack of certification is imputable to prosecution. Consequently, the prosecution failed to divulge evidence when it failed to alert the defense that its witness lacked accreditation. The Court stressed, however, that the holding was limited to this set of facts and that not all medical providers are presumptive members of the prosecution’s team for Brady analysis.
The Court went on to find that the witness’s testimony was both exculpatory and material evidence because it was a cornerstone of the prosecution’s case. The suppression of the evidence affected the jury’s ability to weigh the credibility of the state’s key witness. Under Brady, this is enough to weaken confidence in the verdict and requires the granting habeas relief. Such relief allows for the state to retry a defendant within a reasonable time.

Author: COFPD

Federal Public Defender's Office for the Districts of Colorado and Wyoming