RHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE A Practice Manual – Non-Disclosure

RI Criminal Defense Practice Manual CoverRHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE
A Practice Manual, 4th Edition
© John E. MacDonald

 

DISCOVERY VIOLATIONS

Non-Disclosure

 

State v. Wyche, 518 A.2d 907 (R.I. 1986). In a rape case, the prosecutor failed to disclose to defense counsel until after the trial that the complainant had registered a .208 blood alcohol reading at the hospital. The prosecutor was on oral notice of this information during the trial but withheld it. R.I.S.C. granted a new trial.

Oral notice alone was enough to trigger Rule 16 and Brady.
“When the failure to disclose is deliberate, this court will not concern itself with the degree of harm caused to the defendant by the prosecution’s misconduct; we shall simply grant the defendant a new trial. The prosecution acts deliberately when it makes a considered decision to suppress for the purpose of obstructing or where it fails to disclose evidence whose high value to the defense could not have escaped.” Id. at 910.
State v.Horton, 871 A.2d 959 (R.I. 2005). In a first-degree child molestation case, the state provided defense counsel two of four pictures on which the complainant had circled body parts involved in the molestation, as well as videotape showing the complainant marking all four drawings. R.I.S.C. held that the state’s failure to disclose all four was a violation, but upheld the trial court’s decision not to sanction the state.

“There is no doubt that under the broad reach of Rule 16, all four pictures should have been provided to the defense, and the state’s failure to provide two of the pages, even if an innocent mistake, constitutes a discovery violation.” Id. at 960. Whether the defense was on notice that four pictures existed was irrelevant.
although the trial court should have found a violation, it is well settled that the trial court is in the best position to determine whether sanctions are appropriate, and will not be reversed absent clear abuse of discretion. Id.
State v. Gonzalez, 923 A.2d 1282 (R.I. 2007). Before trial for possession and delivery of cocaine, the prosecution failed to disclose FBI reports that detailed earlier uncharged drug sales from defendant to an informant. The non-disclosure led to defense counsel unwillingly eliciting testimony of these other sales while cross-examining a police detective. The trial judge denied defendant’s motion for a mistrial because both parties agreed that the non-disclosure was unintentional. R.I.S.C vacated the convictions and granted a new trial.

Any other lesser measure than a mistrial was an abuse of the trial judge’s discretion and could not counterbalance the evidence or remedy the fact that defendant’s trial strategy was neutralized. Id. at 1287-89.

“Although sanctions are not warranted for unintentional violations unless defendant proves that he was prejudiced, it is equally true that “if no other available discretionary measures can possibly neutralize the harmful effect of improperly admitted evidence, then a mistrial should be declared.” Id.at 1286-87 (quoting State v. Darcy, 442 A.2d 900, 902 (R.I. 1982)).

Because the discovery violation was unintentional, a new trial would not be precluded on double jeopardy grounds. Cf. State v. Casas, 792 A.2d 737, 739 (R.I.2002) (if the prosecution intentionally goads the defense into asking for a mistrial, the Double Jeopardy Clause precludes a retrial). Id. at 1289.

State v. Stravato, 935 A.2d 948 (R.I. 2007). Defendant, convicted on three counts of second-degree child molestation, motioned for a new trial when he discovered after trial that the state failed to disclose a victim impact statement in their possession. R.I.S.C. held that the trial court committed clear error in denying the motion and ordered a new trial.

“In deliberate nondisclosure cases, prejudice to the other party is presumed” and the defendant is entitled to a new trial, regardless of any other factor. Id. at 951.
The state acknowledged that it knew of the statement, but withheld it only because they believed its disclosure was unnecessary under Rule 16. The state also argued that the information in the statement could be found elsewhere in the disclosed materials. The Court held that this good-faith belief of compliance by the prosecution was unavailing. The evidence was of high-value to the defense and, under the definition in Wyche, constituted a “deliberate non-disclosure.Id. at 956.
State v. McManus, 941 A.2d 222 (R.I. 2008). Prior to trial for murder, state failed to disclose a witness’s interview transcript. Defendant alleged a due process violation underBrady v. Maryland, 83 S. Ct. 1194 (1963). R.I.S.C. affirmed the trial court’s finding that the non-disclosure was inadvertent and harmless.

Brady requires that a new trial be granted following non-disclosure of information material to guilt or punishment. To satisfy the degree of materiality necessary for a Brady violation, a defendant must show that “there is a reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” McManus, 941 A.2d at 230 (quoting Cronan ex rel. State v. Cronan, 774 A.2d 866, 880 (R.I. 2001)). Rhode Island presumes materiality for deliberate non-disclosure (See Stravato, above).
In a case of an inadvertent non-disclosure, due process and Brady are not implicated and the defendant must demonstrate procedural prejudice by showing that there is “a significant chance that the use and development of the withheld evidence by skilled council at trial would have produced a reasonable doubt in the minds of enough jurors to avoid a conviction.” Id
State v. Diefenderger, 970 A.2d 12 (R.I. 2009). Defendant on trial for robbery was not entitled to a copy of testifying accomplice’s immunity agreement or transcript of immunity hearing. Prosecutor’s summarization of the hearing and presiding justice’s comments regarding witness’s anticipated testimony were sufficient for defendant to conduct a meaningful cross-examination with respect to the grant of immunity.

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