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Law School Case Brief

Wardius v. Oregon - 412 U.S. 470, 93 S. Ct. 2208 (1973)

Rule:

The Due Process Clause of the U.S. Const. amend. XIV forbids enforcement of alibi rules unless reciprocal discovery rights are given to criminal defendants.

Facts:

During a narcotics prosecution in Lane County, Oregon, the circuit court struck the alibi testimony of a defense witness and refused to allow alibi testimony by the defendant, on the grounds that the defendant failed to comply with a state statute preventing introduction of alibi evidence unless the defendant gave pretrial notice to the prosecution as to his intention to introduce alibi evidence and as to the identity of his alibi witnesses. The rule, on its face, made no provision for reciprocal discovery. The defendant's conviction was affirmed on appeal by the Court of Appeals of Oregon, which rejected the defendant's contentions that the Oregon statute was unconstitutional in the absence of reciprocal discovery rights for the defendant. The Supreme Court of Oregon denied the defendant's petition for review. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari review.

Issue:

Was the Oregon statute, which prevented the introduction of alibi evidence unless defendant gave pretrial notice to the prosecution but made no provision for reciprocal discovery, unconstitutional?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the appellate court, which had rejected defendant's contention that the statute was unconstitutional in the absence of reciprocal discovery rights. The Court found that the statute as written did not provide for reciprocal discovery. Thus, in the absence of fair notice that defendant would have an opportunity to discover the State's rebuttal witnesses, defendant could not be compelled to reveal his alibi defense. The Court held that the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Const. amend. XIV forbade the enforcement of alibi rules, unless reciprocal discovery rights were given to criminal defendants.

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