Ketanji Brown Jackson, in his first opinion written as a Supreme Court justice, said Ohio would side with an inmate who argued he suppressed evidence that could have helped at trial.
The full court rejected an appeal brought by Davel Chinn, who shot and killed a man named Brian Jones as part of an attempted robbery.
Chinn was sentenced to death after another man, an accomplice named Marvin Washington, identified himself to the police.
But after his conviction, Chinn argued that the state’s Brady v. He violated a 1963 case in Maryland when he failed to disclose juvenile records in Washington that indicated he had a “moderate range” of intellectual disabilities. He said the state’s entire case was based on Washington’s testimony and that his credibility was in doubt.
Chinn said the state’s failure to release the records hurt him, perhaps because he was able to question Washington’s ability to identify the killer, testify accurately and remember key dates.
Lower courts ruled against Chinn, holding that suppression of evidence only violates Brady if the information is “material” and only if there is a reasonable probability that – had the records been disclosed – the outcome of the trial would have been different. The courts held that Chinn did not meet that standard.
The court said Monday that it is not accepting Chinn’s appeal. Jackson wrote his first written opinion — a dissent — saying there was “no dispute” the state had “suppressed exculpatory evidence” and questioned how lower courts applied the so-called “materiality standard.”
To prove a Brady violation, he said, the defendant has a “low burden” to show a “reasonable probability” of a different result.
“With Chinn’s life at stake, and given the high likelihood that the suppressed records would change the outcome of the trial,” Jackson wrote, the lower court would summarily reverse. He was accompanied only by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
In another case before the Supreme Court on Monday, two liberal justices also dissented, saying they would accept an appeal by a Louisiana man who says he was denied his right to a fair trial when his attorney called an assistant district attorney. who presented the case before the grand jury, in the presence of witnesses.
Jackson’s written dissent comes a month after he cast his first vote as a judge in July. In that case, he joined Justices Elena Kagan, Amy Coney Barrett and Sotomayor in challenging the court’s decision to freeze a lower court order that prevented the Department of Homeland Security from setting new immigration enforcement priorities.
Jackson, the first African-American woman to serve on the Supreme Court, was sworn in on June 30.