Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer

Fifth Amendment Due Process: Burden of Proof and Evidentiary Issues

The Fifth Amendment guarantees due process of law when someone's life, liberty, or property is at stake. And there are few situations where this is more important than in criminal trials. The Supreme Court has long held that the Fifth Amendment's due process clause imposes certain standards on the government, including the burden of proof and what type of evidence it can use against a criminal defendant.

The Constitution protects your right to due process during criminal proceedings. If you or someone you know faces criminal charges, consult with a local attorney to learn how to protect your rights. 

What the Fifth Amendment Says

"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

The Government's Burden of Proof

United States Library of Congress, The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation

It had long been presumed that reasonable doubt was the proper standard for criminal cases,1 but, because the standard was so widely accepted, it was only relatively recently that the Supreme Court had the opportunity to pronounce it guaranteed by due process. In 1970, the Court held in In re Winship that the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments "[protect] the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged."2

The standard is closely related to the presumption of innocence, which helps to ensure a defendant a fair trial,3 and requires that a jury consider a case solely on the evidence:4

"The reasonable doubt standard plays a vital role in the American scheme of criminal procedure. It is a prime instrument for reducing the risk of convictions resting on factual error. The standard provides concrete substance for the presumption of innocence—that bedrock 'axiomatic and elementary' principle whose 'enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law.'"5

The Court had long held that, under the due process clause, it would set aside convictions that are supported by no evidence at all.6 The holding of the Winship case, however, left open the question as to whether appellate courts should weigh the sufficiency of trial evidence. Thus, in Jackson v. Virginia,7 the Court held that federal courts, on direct appeal of federal convictions or collateral review of state convictions, must satisfy themselves that the evidence on the record could reasonably support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The question the reviewing court is to ask itself is not whether it believes the evidence at the trial established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.8

Because due process requires the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt every fact necessary to constitute the crime charged,9 the Court held in Mullaney v. Wilbur10 that it was unconstitutional to require a defendant charged with murder to prove that he acted in the heat of passion on sudden provocation in order to reduce the homicide to manslaughter. The Court indicated that a "balancing-of-interests" test should be used to determine when the Due Process Clause required the prosecution to carry the burden of proof and when some part of the burden might be shifted to the defendant. The decision, however, called into question the practice in many states under which some burdens of persuasion11 were borne by the defense, and raised the prospect that the prosecution must bear all burdens of persuasion—a significant and weighty task given the large numbers of affirmative defenses.

The Court, however, summarily rejected the argument that Mullaney means that the prosecution must negate an insanity defense,12 and, later, in Patterson v. New York,13 upheld a state statute that required a defendant asserting extreme emotional disturbance as an affirmative defense to murder14 to prove such by a preponderance of the evidence. According to the Court, the constitutional deficiency in Mullaney was that the statute made malice an element of the offense, permitted malice to be presumed upon proof of the other elements, and then required the defendant to prove the absence of malice. In Patterson, by contrast, the statute obligated the state to prove each element of the offense (the death, the intent to kill, and the causation) beyond a reasonable doubt, while allowing the defendant to prove an affirmative defense by a preponderance of the evidence that would reduce the degree of the offense.15 This distinction has been criticized as formalistic, as the legislature can shift burdens of persuasion between prosecution and defense easily through the statutory definitions of the offenses.16

Despite the requirement that states prove each element of a criminal offense, criminal trials generally proceed with a presumption that the defendant does not have a severe mental illness, and a defendant may be limited in the evidence that he may present to challenge this presumption. In Clark v. Arizona,17 the Court considered a rule adopted by the Supreme Court of Arizona that prohibited the use of expert testimony regarding mental disease or mental capacity to show lack of mens rea, ruling that the use of such evidence could be limited to an insanity defense. In Clark, the Court weighed competing interests to hold that such evidence could be channeled to the issue of insanity due to the controversial character of some categories of mental disease, the potential of mental-disease evidence to mislead, and the danger of according greater certainty to such evidence than experts claim for it.18

Another important distinction that can substantially affect a prosecutor's burden is whether a fact to be established is an element of a crime or instead is a sentencing factor. Although a criminal conviction is generally established by a jury using the beyond a reasonable doubt standard, sentencing factors are generally evaluated by a judge using few evidentiary rules and under the more lenient preponderance of the evidence standard. The Court has taken a formalistic approach to this issue, allowing states to designate essentially which facts fall under which of these two categories. For instance, the Court has held that whether a defendant visibly possessed a gun during a crime may be designated by a state as a sentencing factor, and determined by a judge based on the preponderance of the evidence.19

Although the Court has generally deferred to the legislature's characterizations in this area, it limited this principle in Apprendi v. New Jersey. In Apprendi, the Court held that a sentencing factor cannot be used to increase the maximum penalty imposed for the underlying crime.20 This led, in turn, to the Court's overruling conflicting prior case law that had held constitutional the use of aggravating sentencing factors by judges when imposing capital punishment.21 These holdings are subject to at least one exception, however,22 and the decisions might be evaded by legislatures revising criminal provisions to increase maximum penalties, and then providing for mitigating factors within the newly established sentencing range.

Another closely related issue is statutory presumptions, where proof of a presumed fact that is a required element of a crime, is established by another fact, the basic fact.23 In Tot v. United States,24 the Court held that a statutory presumption was valid under the Due Process Clause only if it met a rational connection test. In that case, the Court struck down a presumption that a person possessing an illegal firearm had shipped, transported, or received such in interstate commerce. Under our decisions, a statutory presumption cannot be sustained if there be no rational connection between the fact proved and the ultimate fact presumed, if the inference of the one from the proof of the other is arbitrary because of lack of connection between the two in common experience.

In Leary v. United States,25 this due process test was stiffened to require that, for such a rational connection to exist, it must at least be said with substantial assurance that the presumed fact is more likely than not to flow from the proved fact on which it is made to depend. Thus, the Court voided a provision that permitted a jury to infer from a defendant's possession of marijuana his knowledge of its illegal importation. A lengthy canvass of factual materials established to the Court's satisfaction that, although the greater part of marijuana consumed in the United States is of foreign origin, there was still a good amount produced domestically and there was no way to assure that the majority of those possessing marijuana have any reason to know whether their marijuana is imported.26 The Court left open the question of whether a presumption that survived the rational connection test must also satisfy the criminal 'reasonable doubt' standard if proof of the crime charged or an essential element thereof depends upon its use.27

In a later case, a closely divided Court drew a distinction between mandatory presumptions, which a jury must accept, and permissive presumptions, which may be presented to the jury as part of all the evidence to be considered. With respect to mandatory presumptions, since the prosecution bears the burden of establishing guilt, it may not rest its case entirely on a presumption, unless the fact proved is sufficient to support the inference of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.28 But, with respect to permissive presumptions, the prosecution may rely on all of the evidence in the record to meet the reasonable doubt standard. There is no more reason to require a permissive statutory presumption to meet a reasonable-doubt standard before it may be permitted to play any part in a trial than there is to require that degree of probative force for other relevant evidence before it may be admitted. As long as it is clear that the presumption is not the sole and sufficient basis for a finding of guilt, it need only satisfy the test described in Leary.29 Thus, due process was not violated by the application of the statute that provides that the presence of a firearm in an automobile is presumptive evidence of its illegal possession by all persons then occupying the vehicle.30 The division of the Court in these cases and in the Mullaney v. Wilbur line of cases clearly shows the unsettled nature of the issues they concern.

Evidentiary Requirements

The combination of otherwise acceptable rules of criminal trials may in some instances deny a defendant due process. Thus, based on the particular circumstance of a case, two rules that (1) denied a defendant the right to cross-examine his own witness in order to elicit evidence exculpatory to the defendant31 and (2) denied a defendant the right to introduce the testimony of witnesses about matters told them out of court on the ground the testimony would be hearsay, denied the defendant his constitutional right to present his own defense in a meaningful way.32 Similarly, a questionable procedure may be saved by its combination with another. Thus, it does not deny a defendant due process to subject him initially to trial before a non-lawyer police court judge when there is a later trial de novo available under the state's court system.33

When a conviction is obtained by the presentation of testimony known to the prosecuting authorities to have been perjured, due process is violated. The clause cannot be deemed to be satisfied by mere notice and hearing if a State has contrived a conviction through the pretense of a trial which in truth is but used as a means of depriving a defendant of liberty through a deliberate deception of court and jury by the presentation of testimony known to be perjured. "Such a contrivance . . . is as inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of justice as is the obtaining of a like result by intimidation."34

The above-quoted language was dictum,35 but the principle it enunciated has required state officials to controvert allegations that knowingly false testimony had been used to convict36 and has upset convictions found to have been so procured.37 Extending the principle, the Court in Miller v. Pate38 overturned a conviction obtained after the prosecution had represented to the jury that a pair of men's shorts found near the scene of a sex attack belonged to the defendant and that they were stained with blood; the defendant showed in a habeas corpus proceeding that no evidence connected him with the shorts and furthermore that the shorts were not in fact bloodstained, and that the prosecution had known these facts.

This line of reasoning has even resulted in the disclosure to the defense of information not relied upon by the prosecution during trial.39 In Brady v. Maryland,40 the Court held that the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution. In that case, the prosecution had suppressed an extrajudicial confession of the defendant's accomplice that he had actually committed the murder.41

The heart of the holding in Brady is the prosecution's suppression of evidence, in the face of a defense production request, where the evidence is favorable to the accused and is material either to guilt or to punishment. Important, then, are (a) suppression by the prosecution after a request by the defense, (b) the evidence's favorable character for the defense, and (c) the materiality of the evidence.42

In United States v. Agurs,43 the Court summarized and somewhat expanded the prosecutor's obligation to disclose to the defense exculpatory evidence in his possession, even in the absence of a request, or upon a general request, by the defendant.

First, as noted, if the prosecutor knew or should have known that testimony given to the trial was perjured, the conviction must be set aside if there is any reasonable likelihood that the false testimony could have affected the judgment of the jury.44

Second, as established in Brady, if the defense specifically requested certain evidence and the prosecutor withheld it,45 the conviction must be set aside if the suppressed evidence might have affected the outcome of the trial.46

Third (the new law created in Agurs), if the defense did not make a request at all, or simply asked for all Brady material or for anything exculpatory, a duty resides in the prosecution to reveal to the defense obviously exculpatory evidence. Under this third prong, if the prosecutor did not reveal the relevant information, reversal of a conviction may be required, but only if the undisclosed evidence creates a reasonable doubt as to the defendant's guilt.47

This tripartite formulation, however, suffered from two apparent defects. First, it added a new level of complexity to a Brady inquiry by requiring a reviewing court to establish the appropriate level of materiality by classifying the situation under which the exculpating information was withheld. Second, it was not clear, if the fairness of the trial was at issue, why the circumstances of the failure to disclose should affect the evaluation of the impact that such information would have had on the trial. Ultimately, the Court addressed these issues in United States v. Bagley.48

In Bagley, the Court established a uniform test for materiality, choosing the most stringent requirement that evidence is material if there is a reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the outcome of the proceeding would have been different.49 This materiality standard, found in contexts outside of Brady inquiries,50 is applied not only to exculpatory material but also to material that would be relevant to the impeachment of witnesses.51 Thus, where inconsistent earlier statements by a witness to an abduction were not disclosed, the Court weighed the specific effect that impeachment of the witness would have had on establishing the required elements of the crime and of the punishment, finally concluding that there was no reasonable probability that the jury would have reached a different result.52

The Supreme Court has also held that "Brady suppression occurs when the government fails to turn over even evidence that is 'known only to police investigators and not to the prosecutor.' . . . '[T]he individual prosecutor has a duty to learn of any favorable evidence known to others acting on the government's behalf in the case, including the police.'"53

Related Resources


  1. Miles v. United States, 103 U.S. 304, 312 (1881)Davis v. United States, 160 U.S. 469, 488 (1895)Holt v. United States, 218 U.S. 245, 253 (1910)Speiser v. Randall, 357 U.S. 513, 525–26 (1958).
  2. In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364 (1970)See Estelle v. Williams, 425 U.S. 501, 503 (1976)Henderson v. Kibbe, 431 U.S. 145, 153 (1977)Ulster County Court v. Allen, 442 U.S. 140, 156 (1979)Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, 520–24 (1979)See also Sullivan v. Louisiana, 508 U.S. 275 (1993) (Sixth Amendment guarantee of trial by jury requires a jury verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt). On the interrelationship of the reasonable doubt burden and defendant's entitlement to a presumption of innocence, see Taylor v. Kentucky, 436 U.S. 478, 483–86 (1978), and Kentucky v. Whorton, 441 U.S. 786 (1979).
  3. E.g.Deutch v. United States, 367 U.S. 456, 471 (1961)See also Cage v. Louisiana, 498 U.S. 39 (1990) (per curiam) (jury instruction that explains reasonable doubt as a doubt that would give rise to a grave uncertainty, as equivalent to substantial doubt, and as requiring a moral certainty, suggests a higher degree of certainty than is required for acquittal, and therefore violates the Due Process Clause). But see Victor v. Nebraska, 511 U.S. 1 (1994) (considered as a whole, jury instructions that define reasonable doubt as requiring a moral certainty or as equivalent to substantial doubt did not violate due process because other clarifying language was included.)
  4. Holt v. United States, 218 U.S. 245 (1910)Agnew v. United States, 165 U.S. 36 (1897). These cases overturned Coffin v. United States, 156 U.S. 432, 460 (1895), in which the Court held that the presumption of innocence was evidence from which the jury could find a reasonable doubt.
  5. 397 U.S. at 363 (quoting Coffin v. United States, 156 U.S. 432, 453 (1895)). Justice Harlan's Winship concurrence, id. at 368, proceeded on the basis that, because there is a likelihood of error in any system of reconstructing past events, the error of convicting the innocent should be reduced to the greatest extent possible through the use of the reasonable doubt standard.
  6. Thompson v. City of Louisville, 362 U.S. 199 (1960)Garner v. Louisiana, 368 U.S. 157 (1961)Taylor v. Louisiana, 370 U.S. 154 (1962)Barr v. City of Columbia, 378 U.S. 146 (1964)Johnson v. Florida, 391 U.S. 596 (1968)See also Chessman v. Teets, 354 U.S. 156 (1957).
  7. 443 U.S. 307 (1979).
  8. 316, 18–19. See also Musacchio v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 709 (2016) (When a jury finds guilt after being instructed on all elements of the charged crime plus one more element, the fact that the government did not introduce evidence of the additional element—which was not required to prove the offense, but was included in the erroneous jury instruction—does not implicate the principles that sufficiency review protects.); Griffin v. United States, 502 U.S. 46 (1991) (general guilty verdict on a multiple-object conspiracy need not be set aside if the evidence is inadequate to support conviction as to one of the objects of the conviction, but is adequate to support conviction as to another object).
  9. Bunkley v. Florida, 538 U.S. 835 (2003)Fiore v. White, 528 U.S. 23 (1999). These cases both involved defendants convicted under state statutes that were subsequently interpreted in a way that would have precluded their conviction. The Court remanded the cases to determine if the new interpretation was in effect at the time of the previous convictions, in which case those convictions would violate due process.
  10. 421 U.S. 684 (1975). See also Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, 520–24 (1979).
  11. The general notion of burden of proof can be divided into the burden of production (providing probative evidence on a particular issue) and a burden of persuasion (persuading the factfinder with respect to an issue by a standard such as proof beyond a reasonable doubt). Mullaney, 421 U.S. at 695 n.20.
  12. Rivera v. Delaware, 429 U.S. 877 (1976), dismissing as not presenting a substantial federal question an appeal from a holding that Mullaney did not prevent a state from placing on the defendant the burden of proving insanity by a preponderance of the evidence. See Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, 202–05 (1977) (explaining the import of Rivera). Justice Rehnquist and Chief Justice Burger concurring in Mullaney, 421 U.S. at 704, 705, had argued that the case did not require any reconsideration of the holding in Leland v. Oregon, 343 U.S. 790 (1952), that the defense may be required to prove insanity beyond a reasonable doubt.
  13. 432 U.S. 197 (1977).
  14. Proving the defense would reduce a murder offense to manslaughter.
  15. The decisive issue, then, was whether the statute required the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt each element of the offense. See also Dixon v. United States, 548 U.S. 1 (2006) (requiring defendant in a federal firearms case to prove her duress defense by a preponderance of evidence did not violate due process). In Dixon, the prosecution had the burden of proving all elements of two federal firearms violations, one requiring a willful violation (having knowledge of the facts that constitute the offense) and the other requiring a knowing violation (acting with knowledge that the conduct was unlawful). Although establishing other forms of mens rea (such as malicious intent) might require that a prosecutor prove that a defendant's intent was without justification or excuse, the Court held that neither of the forms of mens rea at issue in Dixon contained such a requirement. Consequently, the burden of establishing the defense of duress could be placed on the defendant without violating due process.
  16. Dissenting in Patterson, Justice Powell argued that the two statutes were functional equivalents that should be treated alike constitutionally. He would hold that as to those facts that historically have made a substantial difference in the punishment and stigma flowing from a criminal act the state always bears the burden of persuasion but that new affirmative defenses may be created and the burden of establishing them placed on the defendant. 432 U.S. at 216. Patterson was followed in Martin v. Ohio, 480 U.S. 228 (1987) (state need not disprove defendant acted in self-defense based on honest belief she was in imminent danger, when offense is aggravated murder, an element of which is prior calculation and design). Justice Powell, again dissenting, urged a distinction between defenses that negate an element of the crime and those that do not. Id. at 236, 240.
  17. 548 U.S. 735 (2006).
  18. 548 U.S. at 770, 774.
  19. McMillan v. Pennsylvania, 477 U.S. 79 (1986). It should be noted that these types of cases may also implicate the Sixth Amendment, as the right to a jury extends to all facts establishing the elements of a crime, while sentencing factors may be evaluated by a judge.
  20. 530 U.S. 466, 490 (2000) (interpreting New Jersey's hate crime law). It should be noted that, prior to its decision in Apprendi, the Court had held that sentencing factors determinative of minimum sentences could be decided by a judge. McMillan v. Pennsylvania, 477 U.S. 79 (1986). Although the vitality of McMillan was put in doubt by ApprendiMcMillan was subsequently reaffirmed in Harris v. United States, 536 U.S. 545 (2002).
  21. Walton v. Arizona, 497 U.S. 639 (1990)overruled by Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002).
  22. This limiting principle does not apply to sentencing enhancements based on recidivism. Apprendi, 530 U.S. at 490. As enhancement of sentences for repeat offenders is traditionally considered a part of sentencing, establishing the existence of previous valid convictions may be made by a judge, despite its resulting in a significant increase in the maximum sentence available. Almendarez-Torres v. United States, 523 U.S. 224 (1998) (deported alien reentering the United States subject to a maximum sentence of two years, but upon proof of felony record, is subject to a maximum of twenty years). See also Parke v. Raley, 506 U.S. 20 (1992) (where prosecutor has burden of establishing a prior conviction, a defendant can be required to bear the burden of challenging the validity of such a conviction).
  23. See, e.g.Yee Hem v. United States, 268 U.S. 178 (1925) (upholding statute that proscribed possession of smoking opium that had been illegally imported and authorized jury to presume illegal importation from fact of possession); Manley v. Georgia, 279 U.S. 1 (1929) (invalidating statutory presumption that every insolvency of a bank shall be deemed fraudulent).
  24. 319 U.S. 463, 467–68 (1943). Compare United States v. Gainey, 380 U.S. 63 (1965) (upholding presumption from presence at site of illegal still that defendant was carrying on or aiding in carrying on its operation), with United States v. Romano, 382 U.S. 136 (1965) (voiding presumption from presence at site of illegal still that defendant had possession, custody, or control of still).
  25. 395 U.S. 6, 36 (1969).
  26. 395 U.S. at 37–54. Although some of the reasoning in Yee Hem was disapproved, it was factually distinguished as involving users of hard narcotics.
  27. 395 U.S. at 36 n.64. The matter was also left open in Turner v. United States, 396 U.S. 398 (1970) (judged by either rational connection or reasonable doubt, a presumption that the possessor of heroin knew it was illegally imported was valid, but the same presumption with regard to cocaine was invalid under the rational connection test because a great deal of the substance was produced domestically), and in Barnes v. United States, 412 U.S. 837 (1973) (under either test a presumption that possession of recently stolen property, if not satisfactorily explained, is grounds for inferring possessor knew it was stolen satisfies due process).
  28. Ulster County Court v. Allen, 442 U.S. 140, 167 (1979).
  29. 442 U.S. at 167.
  30. 442 U.S. at 142. The majority thought that possession was more likely than not the case from the circumstances, while the four dissenters disagreed. 442 U.S. at 168. See also Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62 (1991) (upholding a jury instruction that, to dissenting Justices O'Connor and Stevens, id. at 75, seemed to direct the jury to draw the inference that evidence that a child had been battered in the past meant that the defendant, the child's father, had necessarily done the battering).
  31. The defendant called the witness because the prosecution would not.
  32. Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284 (1973)See also Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308 (1974) (refusal to permit defendant to examine prosecution witness about his adjudication as juvenile delinquent and status on probation at time, in order to show possible bias, was due process violation, although general principle of protecting anonymity of juvenile offenders was valid); Crane v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 683 (1986) (exclusion of testimony as to circumstances of a confession can deprive a defendant of a fair trial when the circumstances bear on the credibility as well as the voluntariness of the confession); Holmes v. South Carolina, 547 U.S. 319 (2006) (overturning rule that evidence of third-party guilt can be excluded if there is strong forensic evidence establishing defendant's culpability). But see Montana v. Egelhoff, 518 U.S. 37 (1996) (state may bar defendant from introducing evidence of intoxication to prove lack of mens rea).
  33. North v. Russell, 427 U.S. 328 (1976).
  34. Mooney v. Holohan, 294 U.S. 103, 112 (1935).
  35. The Court dismissed the petitioner's suit on the ground that adequate process existed in the state courts to correct any wrong and that the petitioner had not availed himself of it. A state court subsequently appraised the evidence and ruled that the allegations had not been proved in Ex parte Mooney, 10 Cal. 2d 1, 73 P.2d 554 (1937), cert. denied, 305 U.S. 598 (1938).
  36. Pyle v. Kansas, 317 U.S. 213 (1942)White v. Ragen, 324 U.S. 760 (1945)See also New York ex rel. Whitman v. Wilson, 318 U.S. 688 (1943)Ex parte Hawk, 321 U.S. 114 (1914)But see Hysler v. Florida, 315 U.S. 411 (1942)Lisenba v. California, 314 U.S. 219 (1941).
  37. Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264 (1959)Alcorta v. Texas, 355 U.S. 28 (1957). In the former case, the principal prosecution witness was the defendant's accomplice, and he testified that he had received no promise of consideration in return for his testimony. In fact, the prosecutor had promised him consideration but did nothing to correct the false testimony. See also Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150 (1972) (same). In the latter case, involving a husband's killing of his wife because of her infidelity, a prosecution witness testified at the habeas corpus hearing that he told the prosecutor that he had been intimate with the woman but that the prosecutor had told him to volunteer nothing of it so that at trial he had testified his relationship with the woman was wholly casual. In both cases, the Court deemed it irrelevant that the false testimony had gone only to the credibility of the witness rather than to the defendant's guilt. What if the prosecution should become aware of the perjury of a prosecution witness following the trial? Cf. Durley v. Mayo, 351 U.S. 277 (1956)But see Smith v. Phillips, 455 U.S. 209, 218–21 (1982) (prosecutor's failure to disclose that one of the jurors has a job application pending before him, thus rendering him possibly partial, does not go to the fairness of the trial and due process is not violated).
  38. 386 U.S. 1 (1967).
  39. The Constitution does not require the government, prior to entering into a binding plea agreement with a criminal defendant, to disclose impeachment information relating to any informants or other witnesses against the defendant. United States v. Ruiz, 536 U.S. 622 (2002). Nor has it been settled whether inconsistent prosecutorial theories in separate cases can be the basis for a due process challenge. Bradshaw v. Stumpf, 545 U.S. 175 (2005) (Court remanded the case to determine whether the death sentence was based on the defendant's role as a shooter because subsequent prosecution against an accomplice proceeded on the theory that, based on new evidence, the accomplice had done the shooting).
  40. 373 U.S. 83, 87 (1963). In Jencks v. United States, 353 U.S. 657 (1957), in the exercise of its supervisory power over the federal courts, the Court held that the defense was entitled to obtain, for impeachment purposes, statements which had been made to government agents by government witnesses during the investigatory stage. Cf. Scales v. United States, 367 U.S. 203, 257–58 (1961). A subsequent statute modified but largely codified the decision and was upheld by the Court. Palermo v. United States, 360 U.S. 343 (1959), sustaining 18 U.S.C. § 3500.
  41. Although the state court in Brady had allowed a partial retrial so that the accomplice's confession could be considered in the jury's determination of whether to impose capital punishment, it had declined to order a retrial of the guilt phase of the trial. The defendant's appeal of this latter decision was rejected, as the issue, as the Court saw it, was whether the state court could have excluded the defendant's confessed participation in the crime on evidentiary grounds, as the defendant had confessed to facts sufficient to establish grounds for the crime charged.
  42. Moore v. Illinois, 408 U.S. 786, 794–95 (1972) (finding Brady inapplicable because the evidence withheld was not material and not exculpatory). See also Wood v. Bartholomew, 516 U.S. 1 (1995) (per curiam) (holding no due process violation where prosecutor's failure to disclose the result of a witness' polygraph test would not have affected the outcome of the case). The beginning in Brady toward a general requirement of criminal discovery was not carried forward. See the division of opinion in Giles v. Maryland, 386 U.S. 66 (1967). In Cone v. Bell, 556 U.S. 449, 472, 476 (2009), the Court emphasized the distinction between the materiality of the evidence with respect to guilt and the materiality of the evidence with respect to punishment, and concluded that, although the evidence that had been suppressed was not material to the defendant's conviction, the lower courts had erred in failing to assess its effect with respect to the defendant's capital sentence.
  43. 427 U.S. 97 (1976).
  44. 427 U.S. at 103–04. This situation is the Mooney v. Holohan-type of case.
  45. A statement by the prosecution that it will open its files to the defendant appears to relieve the defendant of his obligation to request such materials. See Strickler v. Greene, 527 U.S. 263, 283–84 (1999)Banks v. Dretke, 540 U.S. 668, 693 (2004).
  46. 427 U.S. at 104–06. This the Brady situation.
  47. 427 U.S. at 106–14. This was the Agurs fact situation. Similarly, there is no obligation that law enforcement officials preserve breath samples that have been used in a breath-analysis test; to meet the Agurs materiality standard, the evidence must both possess an exculpatory value that was apparent before the evidence was destroyed, and be of such a nature that the defendant would be unable to obtain comparable evidence by other reasonably available means. California v. Trombetta, 467 U.S. 479, 489 (1984)See also Arizona v. Youngblood, 488 U.S. 51 (1988) (negligent failure to refrigerate and otherwise preserve potentially exculpatory physical evidence from sexual assault kit does not violate a defendant's due process rights absent bad faith on the part of the police); Illinois v. Fisher, 540 U.S. 544 (2004) (per curiam) (the routine destruction of a bag of cocaine 11 years after an arrest, the defendant having fled prosecution during the intervening years, does not violate due process).
  48. 473 U.S. 667 (1985).
  49. 473 U.S. at 682. Or, to phrase it differently, a Brady violation is established by showing that the favorable evidence could reasonably be taken to put the whole case in such a different light as to undermine confidence in the verdict. Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419, 435 (1995)Accord Smith v. Cain, 565 U.S. 73 (2012) (prior inconsistent statements of sole eyewitness withheld from the defendant; state lacked other evidence sufficient to sustain confidence in the verdict independently).
  50. See United States v. Malenzuela-Bernal, 458 U.S. 858 (1982) (testimony made unavailable by Government deportation of witnesses); Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984) (incompetence of counsel).
  51. 473 U.S. at 676–77. See also Wearry v. Cain, 136 S. Ct. 1002, 1007 (2016) (per curiam) (finding that a state post-conviction court had improperly (1) evaluated the materiality of each piece of evidence in isolation, rather than cumulatively; (2) emphasized reasons jurors might disregard the new evidence while ignoring reasons why they might not; and (3) failed to consider the statements of two impeaching witnesses).
  52. Strickler v. Greene, 527 U.S. 263, 296 (1999)see also Turner v. United States, 137 S. Ct. 1885, 1894 (2017)(holding that, when considering the withheld evidence in the context of the entire record, the evidence was too little, too weak, or too distant from the central evidentiary issues in the case to meet Brady's standards for materiality.)
  53. Youngblood v. West Virginia, 547 U.S. 867, 869–70 (2006) (per curiam), quoting Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419, 438, 437 (1995).
Was this helpful?

Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Complex criminal defense situations usually require a lawyer
  • Defense attorneys can help protect your rights
  • A lawyer can seek to reduce or eliminate criminal penalties

Get tailored advice and ask your legal questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.


 If you need an attorney, find one right now.

Copied to clipboard