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Law School Case Brief

Banks v. Dretke - 540 U.S. 668, 124 S. Ct. 1256 (2004)


The suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution. The following are the three components or essential elements of a Brady prosecutorial misconduct claim: that the evidence at issue must be favorable to the accused, either because it is exculpatory, or because it is impeaching; that evidence must have been suppressed by the state, either willfully or inadvertently; and that prejudice must have ensued. Corresponding to the second Brady component (evidence suppressed by the state), a petitioner shows "cause" when the reason for his failure to develop facts in state-court proceedings was the state's suppression of the relevant evidence; coincident with the third Brady component (prejudice), prejudice within the compass of the "cause and prejudice" requirement exists when the suppressed evidence is material for Brady purposes.


Defendant Banks was convicted in state court of felony murder and sentenced to death, but asserted that the prosecution failed to disclose that a key witness was a paid informant and knowingly allowed the witness to testify falsely. On Defendant's petition, the district court granted Banks habeas corpus. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the grant of his habeas corpus petition, and Defendant sought certiorari review.


Was it error to dismiss Banks’ claim?




The United States Supreme Court held that Banks’ claim was not barred since he showed cause for failing to develop the claim in state court and the impeachment evidence was clearly material, at least with regard to the penalty proceedings. Banks’ failure to investigate the informant's status resulted from the prosecution's persistent misrepresentations and omissions concerning such status, and Banks was entitled to credit the prosecution's statements. Further, Banks  was prejudiced from the lack of the evidence since the prosecution relied heavily on the informant's penalty phase testimony about the inmate's propensity to commit further crimes without disclosing the informant's active role in the case.

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