Strickler v. Greene, 527 U.S. 263 (1999)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fourth circuit

No. 98-5864. Argued March 3, 1999—Decided June 17, 1999

The Commonwealth of Virginia charged petitioner with capital murder and related crimes. Because an open file policy gave petitioner access to all of the evidence in the prosecutor's files, petitioner's counsel did not file a pretrial motion for discovery of possible exculpatory evidence. At the trial, Anne Stoltzfus gave detailed eyewitness testimony about the crimes and petitioner's role as one of the perpetrators. The prosecutor failed to disclose exculpatory materials in the police files, consisting of notes taken by a detective during interviews with Stoltzfus, and letters written by Stoltzfus to the detective, that cast serious doubt on significant portions of her testimony. The jury found petitioner guilty, and he was sentenced to death. The Virginia Supreme Court affirmed. In subsequent state habeas corpus proceedings, petitioner advanced an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim based, in part, on trial counsel's failure to file a motion under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U. S. 83, for disclosure of all exculpatory evidence known to the prosecution or in its possession. In response, the Commonwealth asserted that such a motion was unnecessary because of the prosecutor's open file policy. The trial court denied relief. The Virginia Supreme Court affirmed. Petitioner then filed a federal habeas petition and was granted access to the exculpatory Stoltzfus materials for the first time. The District Court vacated petitioner's capital murder conviction and death sentence on the grounds that the Commonwealth had failed to disclose those materials and that petitioner had not, in consequence, received a fair trial. The Fourth Circuit reversed because petitioner had procedurally defaulted his Brady claim by not raising it at his trial or in the state collateral proceedings. In addition, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the claim was, in any event, without merit.

Held: Although petitioner has demonstrated cause for failing to raise a

Brady claim, Virginia did not violate Brady and its progeny by failing to disclose exculpatory evidence to petitioner. Pp. 280-296.

(a) There are three essential components of a true Brady violation: the evidence at issue must be favorable to the accused, either because it is exculpatory, or because it is impeaching; that evidence must have been suppressed by the State, either willfully or inadvertently; and prejudice must have ensued. The record in this case unquestionably


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