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In The News

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"I'm Charged with A Crime - the Government is Hiding the Ball" - New SCOTUS Case on When That Conduct is Enough to Free People Convicted of Crimes

By Michael Nichols
Categories: Karen L. Phillips

The legal principle that the government must provide all evidence that is material to an accused citizen’s defense recently got a shot in the arm from the Supreme Court according to Karen Phillips, partner and criminal defense litigator with the Nichols Law Firm, PLLC in East Lansing.

Mr. Michael Wearry was convicted of capital murder in Louisiana. “The evidence came largely from 2 witnesses, a Mr. Scott and Mr. Brown, who were both in jail facing unrelated charges at the time,” says Phillips. There were three items not turned over to the defense at the trial stage which the United States Supreme Court found violated Mr. Wearry’s Constitutional right to Due Process and tainted his conviction as fatally-flawed. First, two of Scott’s fellow inmates made statements that would have cast doubt on Scott’s credibility but that were never disclosed to the defense. One statement was Scott threatening to “even a score” with Wearry. The other statement was by another inmate in the jail, who said Scott convinced him to meet with police and say he witnessed the murder, which he did, but he also recanted that story the next day and advised police that Scott had told him what to say.

The second item not turned over to the defense was the following: Mr. Brown tried twice to get a reduced sentence from the prosecution. Phillips says: “this was especially important because what was promised to Brown by police was that he had to tell the truth and then they would see what the prosecution would do.” Phillips adds that “more importantly, the prosecution made the point to the jury that Brown was testifying without any benefit to his sentence and was doing so by the ‘goodness of his heart’ because his sister knew the victim’s sister. Well, Mr. Brown’s failed efforts to get a reduced sentence would contradict that ‘goodness of his heart’ line,” Philips adds.

The third item not turned over to the defense was a set of medical records supporting that one of the people Scott incriminated as being involved in the murder had knee surgery 9 days prior to the incident date, which would have questioned the veracity of Scott’s story. Phillips says “Mr. Scott claimed that Randy Hutchinson was with him as well as Mr. Wearry on the date of the murder. Further, he testified that Hutchinson ran out into the street, flagged down the victim’s car, pulled the victim out and stuffed him into the cargo space of the vehicle. We know that the likelihood of that physical exertion by a man who had knee surgery within 10 days of the murder is not very high.”

At a post-conviction hearing an expert testified that Hutchinson could not have put weight on his knee in order to run, bend of lift any substantial weight from the surgery to repair a ruptured patellar tendon. An expert for the prosecution testified otherwise.
In deciding that this conviction was constitutionally flawed the court relied on several cases that have long-stood the test of time. “The suppression of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution.” Brady v Maryland, 373 US 83, 87 (1963). Evidence is material when there is “any reasonable likelihood” it could have affected the judgment of the jury. Id. Brady applies to evidence undermining witness credibility. Giglio v United States, 405 US 150 (1972). For the lawyers who are leaders in the law, stay on the cutting edge and use the law to protect your rights, call Karen Phillips at the Nichols Law Firm at 517.432.9000. Find out why she is committed

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Peer Recognition

Mike Nichols is a national leader in drunk driving defense. He is a member of the Forensic Committee and Michigan delegate to the National College for DUI Defense. He is also a Sustaining Member of the College. Nichols is also a founding member of the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys; a member of the American Chemical Society; an associate member of he American Academy of Forensic Science, Adjunct Professor of Forensic Evidence in Criminal Law and OWI Law and Practice at Cooley Law School. He is also author of the West OWI Practice book and several chapters in other books on science and the law.

Mike Nichols is recognized by his peers in Michigan as a “SuperLawyer” in DUI/Criminal Defense. Nichols has also been asked to speak at conferences by groups such as the NCDD; Various Bar Associations in other states.