Supreme Court Rejects David Brown Appeal
SCOTUS Refuses to Hear Louisiana Death Row Case
Where Prosecutors withheld Evidence from Condemned Man’s Defense
By Chris Murell, Esq., The Fair Fight Initiative
ANGOLA, La. (Monday, Apr. 3rd, 2023) — Over the vigorous dissent of three justices, the Supreme Court of the United States refused Monday to take the case of a man sitting on Louisiana’s Death Row, even though prosecutors in his case had evidence he was not present at the time of the murder for which he was sentenced to death.
The Court’s ultra-conservative majority ignored 60 years of precedent in due process cases and denied a writ of certiorari filed on behalf of David Brown, who was convicted and condemned to death for the murder of a Louisiana prison guard during an escape attempt, despite prosecutors’ withholding of a witness statement which exculpates Brown of the murder, which they had taken before Brown’s conviction and sentencing.
“We have repeatedly reversed lower courts—and Louisiana courts, in particular—for similar refusals to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment’s mandate that favorable and material evidence in the government’s possession be disclosed to the defense before trial,” wrote Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson in her .
Instead, the conservative six justices sided with the Louisiana prosecutors, upholding a state supreme court opinion that splits the hairs of due process by holding the confession was not favorable to Brown because while it implicated two other escapees for the murder, it did not specifically mention Brown.
Constitutional law requires prosecutors to turn over evidence in their possession that is favorable to an accused. The Supreme Court of the United States established this precedent in Brady v. Maryland, a case decided in 1963. This basic, common-sense rule ensures the State cannot prevent evidence to a jury it knows is false and that juries hear all relevant facts when a defendant’s very life hangs in the balance.
Louisiana’s courts have resolutely refused to enforce this constitutional mandate. Three of the Supreme Court’s most important recent Brady decisions have all come from Louisiana. In each case, Louisiana prosecutors deliberately cheated and withheld crucial evidence favorable to an accused supporting his innocence. The three defendants in these cases had been sentenced to death or life without parole at trial by juries who never heard the evidence hidden by the State.
In her dissent, Justice Brown Jackson scolded Louisiana courts for their persistent “refusal to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment’s mandate that favorable and material evidence in the Government’s possession be disclosed.”
In Brown’s case, five people were charged and convicted for the death of a prison guard during a failed escape attempt. In his trial, the defense never argued that Brown was not part of the escape plan. Instead, the whole trial centered on which defendants participated in killing the guard. No witness testified that Mr. Brown was ever present or involved. Despite this lack of any evidence, the State asserted Brown was there and the death penalty was appropriate. The jury accepted these arguments and condemned Mr. Brown to be executed.
After this death sentence, the State revealed it had purposefully hidden from Mr. Brown’s lawyers a witness’ statement that two defendants other than Mr. Brown were the ones who decided to, then actually killed the guard. Mr. Brown is never mentioned as even being present. This witness’ account—which was given to the trial prosecutor himself months before Mr. Brown’s trial began—flatly contradicted what the State told jurors in trial. In post-trial proceedings, the State admitted it was in possession of the statement and intentionally refused to provide it to Mr. Brown.
Having overseen the trials of all the defendants and recognizing the tremendous importance of this witness statement, the trial judge vacated Mr. Brown’s sentence. In a 4-3 decision, the Louisiana Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, continuing its refusal to acknowledge the simple precept that a prosecutor shouldn’t be able to lie and cheat in matters of life and death.
The National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NACDL)—a nationwide organization with more than 40,000 members—asked Fair Fight Initiative (FFI) attorneys to to the U.S. Supreme Court explaining why the nation’s highest court must act on this manifest injustice.
While not prevailing today, the dissenting justices’ careful consideration of this case after reviewing briefing will be pivotal and invaluable in Mr. Brown’s future efforts to stop his execution.
 Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419 (1995); Smith v. Cain, 565 U.S. 73 (2012); Wearry v. Cain, 577 U.S. 385 (2016).
Issue in brown is not guilt of murder—he admitted was guilty under Louisiana law—but only penalty.
Again not an opinion, dissent from denial of cert
The six justices did not actually side with the State and say the State is right—they just declined to hear the case and intervene, I.e. grant cert. Hence, why its not an opinion