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Law School Case Brief

Giglio v. United States - 405 U.S. 150, 92 S. Ct. 763 (1972)

Rule:

Suppression of material evidence justifies a new trial irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution. When the reliability of a given witness may well be determinative of guilt or innocence, nondisclosure of evidence affecting credibility falls within this general rule. The court does not, however, automatically require a new trial whenever a combing of the prosecutors' files after the trial has disclosed evidence possibly useful to the defense but not likely to have changed the verdict. A finding of materiality of the evidence is required, and a new trial is required if the false testimony could in any reasonable likelihood have affected the judgment of the jury.

Facts:

Defendant Giglio appealed a judgment from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirming the district court's denial of his motion for a new trial following a conviction for passing forged money orders. At trial, defense counsel asked a witness on cross-examination if any promises of leniency had been made, and the witness falsely answered no. The prosecution represented that no such promises had been made. Upon learning that a promise not to prosecute the witness had in fact been made, defendant moved for a new trial based upon the newly discovered evidence. The appellate court affirmed the trial court's denial of the motion. 

Issue:

Was the prosecution's failure to disclose the promise of leniency to the witness an issue affecting credibility, and therefore material?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

On certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed and remanded because the prosecution's failure to disclose the promise of leniency to the witness was an issue affecting credibility, which was therefore material. The suppression of material evidence violated due process and warranted a new trial whether it resulted from the prosecution's negligence or deliberate deception. Moreover, whether the nondisclosure was a result of negligence or design, it is the responsibility of the prosecutor. The prosecutor's office was an entity and as such it was the spokesman for the Government. A promise made by one attorney must be attributed, for these purposes, to the Government. To the extent this places a burden on the large prosecution offices, procedures and regulations can be established to carry that burden and to insure communication of all relevant information on each case to every lawyer who deals with it. Here the Government's case depended almost entirely on the  testimony of the witness in question; without it there could have been no indictment and no evidence to carry the case to the jury. The credibility of that witness was therefore an important issue in the case, and evidence of any understanding or agreement as to a future prosecution would be relevant to his credibility and the jury was entitled to know of it.

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