Skip to main content

State Court Unreasonably Denied Brady Relief for Commonwealth’s Concealment of Evidence

In Lambert v. Beard, ___ F.3d ___, 2011 WL 353209 (3d Cir. Feb. 7, 2011), Judge Barry authored the panel opinion granting guilt-innocence phase relief in this 1984 Philadelphia capital case. The state’s star witness, Jackson, who initially was identified as one of the shooters in a barroom robbery-murder, identified petitioner as one of two robbers who entered the bar while Jackson waited in the getaway car. Jackson was extensively impeached at trial, but the prosecution argued that one aspect of his testimony—his identification of Lambert and a second party as the two men who committed the crime—had never changed. In postconviction and habeas petitions, Lambert presented evidence that the prosecutor’s claim was untrue. The Commonwealth had never disclosed a police activity sheet showing that Jackson at one time named a third party, not Lambert or the second party he identified at trial, as a “co-defendant” responsible for the shooting.

The Commonwealth conceded that the prosecution should have disclosed this information, and the Circuit panel held that the state courts had unreasonably found that the information was not material. The court acknowledged Harrington v. Richter’s holding that a state court merits ruling precludes federal habeas relief as long as “fairminded jurists could disagree” about the correctness of the ruling. Nevertheless, the panel held, it had found constitutional error and had a duty to correct it. Unlike all of the other impeachment evidence introduced at trial, the information in the police activity sheet would have opened “an entirely new line of impeachment” and thus was not cumulative. For that reason, the evidence was material and the state courts’ failure to grant relief for its nondisclosure was unreasonable.

The panel had issued an extraordinary order in November, stating that Lambert was clearly entitled to penalty phase relief because of Mills v. Maryland error, and should be taken off death row while the court drafted a full opinion that would address both the guilt-innocence and penalty phase issues. The Commonwealth’s petition for panel rehearing or rehearing en banc of that order was pending when the panel issued its February opinion. It vacated the November order and dismissed the Commonwealth’s petition on the ground that both were now moot.

Digest by Claudia Van Wyk, EDPA

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 …