Monday, April 07, 2014

Grant of New Trial Reversed Despite Government's Suppression of Brady Evidence Regarding One Witness

U.S. v. Reese, 2014 WL 1042781 (3/19/14) (N.M.) (Published) - The 10th reverses the grant of a new trial in a highly publicized firearms case in Southwest New Mexico. The 10th finds the suppressed evidence that the FBI was investigating Deputy Batts for involvement in various undescribed criminal activities was not helpful enough to warrant relief under Brady. The defense argued the investigation gave Batts an incentive to testify helpfully for the government. The 10th ruled Batts was not an important enough witness for it to matter if he were thoroughly impeached. The evidence was strong that the defendants knew the people they sold the firearms to were not the real buyers, but just straw purchasers. In the video-recorded incidents the cooperating witness picked out, ordered and paid for the guns, while an undercover agent signed the papers as though the agent was the buyer, often with help from the defendants. Batts had nothing to do with any of those events. He was critical to establishing how the investigation began, but not regarding the central issue of whether the defendants knew the agents were just straw purchasers. Batts played a minor role in the government's closings. That the jury acquitted on 24 of 28 counts did not show this was a close case regarding the particular straw-buyer convictions. The evidence was much stronger, given the video for the convicted counts and proof problems with the other counts. The 10th also made clear that review of a Brady decision by a district court is de novo, even though there's one outlier 10th Circuit case that says otherwise. Earlier precedent prevails. And the 10th observed that the level of government culpability does not matter under Brady. It only matters if it gets to the point of the government knowingly using perjurious testimony under Napue.