Comstock v. Humphries

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Evidence
  • Date Filed: 05-12-2015
  • Case #: 14-15311
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Owens for the Court; Circuit Judges Berzon and Bybee
  • Full Text Opinion

Information favorable to the defendant that the prosecutor fails to communicate, even inadvertently, is considered suppressed.

Stephen Comstock was convicted of stealing Randy Street’s national championship ring for college wrestling. However, in Street’s pre-sentencing victim impact statement, Street expressed serious doubt as to whether the ring was stolen, or whether he simply misplaced it. Street recalled a specific instance where he actually took his ring off and did not “remember putting it back on.” Street also noted that his attorneys knew this information prior to trial. Soon after Street’s written statement, Comstock moved for a new trial asserting Street’s statement as new evidence, claiming that it revealed how “the State failed to disclose favorable evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland.” The district court denied Comstock’s habeas petition, concluding that Street’s statement was “mere speculation” with only “minimal impeachment value.” On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reviewed the denial of Comstock’s petition. Since favorable evidence is measured by substance and not degree, even suppressed evidence that is minimally favorable to the defendant is sufficient. The panel decided that Street’s recollections were at least minimally favorable to Comstock, since they cast doubt on Street’s credibility and, more importantly, on to whether there was a crime in the first place. After clarifying that the State has an affirmative duty to disclose, even without a request from the defendant, the panel concluded that Street’s doubtful expressions were suppressed to Comstock’s prejudice because favorable information that the prosecutor fails to communicate, even inadvertently, is considered suppressed. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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