In the Courts

Liberal Justices Dissent From SCOTUS Denial To Reconsider Death-Row Inmate’s Case

The three liberal Supreme Court justices dissented from the Court’s Monday decision not to take up a death-row inmate’s case.

David Brown, along with four other inmates, was convicted in 2011 of first-degree murder after attempting to escape a Louisiana prison in 1999, according to court documents. Brown’s appeal hinges on the prosecution’s failure to disclose evidence that could have changed his death sentence by corroborating his claim that he never intended to kill the prison guard and wasn’t there when the other inmates murdered him.

“We have repeatedly reversed lower courts—and Louisiana courts, in particular—for similar refusals to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment’s mandate that favorable and material evidence in the government’s possession be disclosed to the defense before trial,” Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote in her dissent, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

After Brown was convicted, prosecutors revealed they had obtained a statement from Barry Edge, one of Brown’s codefendants, admitting he and another codefendant, Jeffrey Clark, “made the decision” to kill the guard and were “the only ones thinking rationally,” according to court documents.

Jackson wrote that she would have granted certiorari and summarily reversed the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Brown’s sentence as a violation of due process rights under the Supreme Court’s 1963 Brady v. Maryland decision.

Forty-one current and former prosecutors for the Department of Justice also had filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to overturn Brown’s sentence.

“[Edge’s] statement could reasonably have been interpreted by the penalty stage jury to undermine the prosecution’s case that Petitioner had the specific intent to kill and to therefore mitigate his culpability for the murder,” they wrote. “Had the statement not been withheld, there is a reasonable probability that the penalty-stage verdict would have been different and the jury would not have imposed a death sentence.”

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