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Law School Case Brief

Harper v. State - 249 Ga. 519, 292 S.E.2d 389 (1982)


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. However, there is no constitutional requirement that the prosecution make a complete and detailed accounting to the defense of all police investigatory work on a case. The Constitution requires that, upon request by the defendant, the State disclose all favorable evidence which is material either to guilt or to punishment. Implicit in the requirement of materiality is a concern that the suppressed evidence might have affected the outcome of the trial.


Defendant Michael Earl Harper was convicted by a Chatham County, Georgia, jury of the murder of George Mercer IV; he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Prior to trial defendant pleaded guilty to charges of attempted theft by extortion of money from the victim's father and was sentenced to four years' imprisonment for that offense. On appeal from the murder conviction, defendant argued that the trial court erred in excluding the opinion of a psychiatrist based on his interview with defendant while under the influence of truth serum, not ordering the State to give him certain exculpatory information, and in denying his motion for a change of venue due to pretrial publicity.


Under the circumstances, was the suppression of some evidence favorable to defendant a violation of his right to due process?




The appellate court affirmed defendant's conviction. The court held that the opinion of the psychiatrist was properly excluded because it had not been proven with verifiable certainty that truth serum compelled a person to tell the truth. Moreover, the court held that the evidence not provided by the State to defendant would not have affected the outcome of the trial and was therefore properly omitted from disclosure. A change of venue was not warranted based on pretrial publicity because defendant failed to show that a pattern of deep and bitter prejudice created by pretrial publicity was present throughout the community and was reflected in the verdict reached by the jurors who tried him.

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