Skip to main content

When will knowledge of impeachment material in the possession of state authorities be imputed to the government for Brady purposes?

In United States v. Risha, the Third Circuit revisits the issue of when the government will be charged with constructive possession of impeachment material for Brady purposes (here, information in the hands of state authorities). After being arrested on state charges, one Frank Caito disclosed his involvement in an unrelated arson and began cooperating in a federal arson prosecution of defendant Jesse Risha. Caito's state proceeding was continued until after his federal cooperation was completed with the conviction of Risha, at which time he entered into a favorable state plea agreement and was sentenced to probation after the state judge was informed of Caito's federal cooperation.

Risha sought a new trial, claiming a Brady violation in the government's failure to disclose Caito's forthcoming state plea agreement and his expectation of leniency at sentencing on the state charges. The district court granted the motion without detailed analysis of the government's actual or constructive possession of this impeachment material.

The Third Circuit found ample evidence of constructive possession in the record, but nonetheless remanded for specific factfinding by the district court on the knowledge issue. In doing so, the Court set forth three alternative triggers for when the goverment will be charged with knowledge of Brady material in the hands of state authorities: (1) if the party with actual knowledge is acting on the government's "behalf" or under its "control;" (2) if the state and federal governments are acting as a "team," are participating in a "joint investigation," or are sharing resources; and (3) if the government has "ready access" to the material.

Judge Nygaard filed a dissent, arguing for a new "reasonableness test" for determining whether the government should be deemed to constructively possess Brady material. This test would take into account whether the government was put on notice of the existence of the material and whether it took objectively reasonable steps to discover the material once put on notice. Although this test seemingly would lead to fewer successful Brady claims, Judge Nygaard would have affirmed the new trial grant in this case (without further factfinding) because the government was clearly put on notice of Caito's state charges and his potential state-side benefit, yet did nothing to investigate the matter.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Double Jeopardy Claim Falls Short on Deferential Habeas Review

In the habeas matter of Wilkerson v. Superintendent Fayette SCI, Nos. 15-1598 & 15-2673, the Third Circuit defers to a state court determination that the defendant’s conviction of both an attempted murder count and an aggravated assault count based on the same altercation did not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause.
The evidence was that during the altercation, the defendant both struck the victim in the head with a gun and shot him in the chest. The Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld consecutive sentences on the theory that the evidence was sufficient to permit a jury to find the striking to support one count and the shooting the other. Despite the jury instructions’ and verdict form’s failure to require each of these discrete findings, the Third Circuit holds that the state court’s reasoning was sound enough to withstand deferential review the AEDPA’s “clearly established Federal law” limitation. “[W]here the jury instructions were merely ambiguous and did not foreclose the jury…

Mailing Threatening Communications is a Crime of Violence and a Judicial Proposal for Reform of the Categorical Approach

In United States v. Chapman, __F.3d__, No. 16-1810, 2017 WL 3319287 (3d Cir. Aug. 4, 2017), the Third Circuit held that mailing a letter containing any threat to injure the recipient or another person in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 876(c) qualifies as a crime of violence for the purposes of the career offender enhancements of the Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 4B1.1(a).The Court acknowledged in a footnote that the analysis is the same for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 871, threats against the president.


The Court began its analysis by reviewing the definition of “crime of violence” and specifically the meaning of the words “use” and “physical force.”Quoting United States v. Castleman, 134 S. Ct. 1405 (2014), and Tran v. Gonzales, 414 F.3d 464 (3d Cir. 2005), it defined “use” as “the intentional employment of force, generally to obtain some end,” which conveys the notion that the thing used “has become the user’s instrument.” The Court confirmed the definition of “physical force” as “force ca…

A Traffic Stop Followed by a Summons is not an Intervening Arrest for Sentencing Guidelines Purposes

In United States v. Ley, __ F.3d __, 2017 WL 5618617 (3d Cir., Nov. 22, 2017), the Third Circuit held that a traffic stop, followed by the issuance of a summons, is not an intervening arrest for the purpose of calculating a defendant’s prior convictions under USSG § 4A1.2(a)(2).   Defendant John Francis Ley received two speeding tickets on two consecutive days.  After writing each ticket, the police released Ley and informed him that the matter would proceed via summons.  No arrest was made and Ley was sentenced for both matters on the same day. The District Court, however, held that the issuance of the summons constituted an intervening arrest for the purposes of the Guidelines and each ticket therefore merited an individual criminal history point.  Ley appealed.  Looking at the ordinary meaning of both “arrest” and “summons,” as well as the Supreme Court’s history of distinguishing arrests from other interactions with law enforcement, the Third Circuit, joining three other circuits …