Thursday, March 17, 2005

9th Cir. grants habeas relief because state presented false evidence

Over 20 years after his convictions for first-degree murder and burglary, Blufford Hayes obtains habeas relief.

A key witness at the trial was an associate who had felony charges pending against him. The prosecutor and defense counsel had negotiated a deal that the charges would be reduced to misdemeanors after he testified at the trial, but they were careful not to tell the witness about the deal, so that when he was asked he could testify truthfully that he had not made a deal. The court summarized:

In short, the State contends that it is constitutionally permissible for it knowingly to present false evidence to a jury in order to obtain a conviction, as long as the witness used to transmit the false information is kept unaware of the truth.

The State is wrong. Napue, by its terms, addresses the presentation of false evidence, not just subornation of perjury.
Further, the court held that the violation was material.

The court noted:
this case is not merely about a peculiar circumstance. As we have noted, this is not the first time we have been confronted in recent years with schemes to place false or distorted evidence before a jury. Our criminal justice system depends on the integrity of the attorneys who present their cases to the jury. When even a single conviction is obtained through perjurious or deceptive means, the entire foundation of our system of justice is weakened.

The dissent agreed as to the violation but did not think the violation would have affected the jury's verdict and hence was not material.

Hayes v. Brown, ---F.3d ---, 2005 WL 517853 (9th Cir. March 7, 2005) (en banc) Find Result - 2005 WL 517853.

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