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For Brady purposes, the defendant must establish that the defense was prejudiced by the State's suppression of evidence, in other words, that the evidence was material. A showing of materiality does not require demonstration by a preponderance that disclosure of the suppressed evidence would have ultimately resulted in the defendant's acquittal. The materiality inquiry is not just a matter of determining whether, after discounting the inculpatory evidence in light of the undisclosed evidence, the remaining evidence is sufficient to support the jury's conclusions. Rather, the question is whether the favorable evidence could reasonably be taken to put the whole case in such a different light as to undermine confidence in the verdict. Further, the cumulative effect of the suppressed evidence must be considered when determining materiality. It is the net effect of the evidence that must be assessed.
Defendant Ana Maria Cardona and co-defendant Olivia Gonzalez-Mendoza were charged with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse for the death of Cardona's three-year-old son, Lazaro Figueroa, after Lazaro's battered body was found in the bushes of a Miami Beach residence. Subsequently, Gonzalez changed her previously entered not guilty pleas to guilty in exchange for a reduced charge of second-degree murder pursuant to a plea arrangement in which Gonzalez agreed to testify against defendant. At trial, the State's strategy, based on Gonzalez's testimony, was to paint defendant as the more culpable defendant. The withheld reports of the interviews, which were generated before Gonzalez's plea agreement with the State, contradicted her subsequent trial testimony in certain material points. The jury found defendant guilty. Defendant filed a motion for postconviction relief under Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.850, which the circuit court denied. Defendant appealed, contending that the State committed a Brady violation by failing to disclose material criminal investigation reports of the State's extensive interviews with her co-defendant and the State's key witness against her.
Did the State commit a Brady violation by failing to disclose material criminal investigation reports of the State's extensive interviews with her co-defendant and the State's key witness against her?
The court reversed the judgment, noting that the co-defendant was the only witness to the escalating abuse. According to the court, the withheld materials would have assisted in the impeachment of the co-defendant. The reports of the undisclosed interviews contained material inconsistencies on several key points not addressed at trial. Specifically: (1) the description of the events of the day before the victim died; (2) the description of the events of the day the victim died; (3) the details of the abuse described; and (4) the date when the co-defendant last abused the victim. Finally, contradictions suggested the co-defendant was coached by the State, because of testimony that was altered between the time of the three interviews and the trial. This paralleled the State's themes at trial: that defendant was the primary attacker, and not the co-defendant. The State then could use these themes in its closing argument.