Supreme Court Wary of Settlement for Brady Violations
By Andrew Ramonas | October 6, 2010 5:35 pm

The Supreme Court on Wednesday appeared to doubt the reason for a $14 million judgment awarded to a death row inmate who claimed that New Orleans prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence in his murder case, The Associated Press reported.

Lawyers for John Thompson, who was convicted of a murder he did not commit, successfully argued in a U.S. district court that the state prosecutors assigned to his case were not adequately trained of their obligations under Brady v. Maryland, the 1963 Supreme Court case that requires prosecutors to turn over exculpatory information to the defense.

Justices questioned the amount of training that would be adequate under Brady. The court has not required prosecutors to undertake a certain amount of Brady instruction.

“I mean, is an hour a year enough? Is an hour a month enough?” Justice Elena Kagan asked, according to the AP.

The justices also discussed what would be covered in Brady training.

Chief Justice John Roberts said prosecutors need to know what they can and cannot say in closing arguments. Justice Anthony Kennedy said prosecutors should also learn about Miranda and search warrants.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said there is the potential for a lengthy training program if Brady instruction is mandated.

The concern is “that you don’t want to have to give the prosecutors a clinical law school course before you let them do their job,” Ginsburg said.

The Justice Department has already taken steps to beef up its prosecutors’ knowledge of Brady after government errors in the prosecution against the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). The case was thrown out last year after it was discovered that prosecutors improperly withheld evidence from Stevens’ defense lawyers.

The DOJ now requires Brady training for its prosecutors and has an official who oversees efforts to ensure compliance with the 1963 Supreme Court ruling.

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