Smith v. Cain: The Supreme Court Spanks Another Prosecutor

In Brady v. Maryland (1963), the US Supreme Court told prosecutors that they had to turn over to defendants prior to trial any information in their files that was favorable to the defense and material to a defendant’s guilt. If not, convictions would have to be overturned.

Decades later, some prosecutors apparently still haven’t gotten the message. In the case of Smith v. Cain (2012), Juan Smith was convicted in New Orleans of the brutal murder of 5 people. The conviction was based on the testimony of a single eyewitness. Only years after he was convicted did Smith find out that the prosecutor had concealed the fact that the eyewitness had told a police officer that “I can’t ID anyone because I couldn’t see faces” and “I wouldn’t know them if I saw them.”

Any law school graduate, in fact virtually any middle school graduate, should know that this is exactly the sort of information that under Brady should have been turned over to the defense prior to the criminal trial. Yet the prosecutor ignored Brady and kept the information hidden. As a result the Supreme Court voided the conviction. If the State is able and chooses to re-try Smith, the costs of a new trial to already-strapped New Orleans taxpayers is signficant. By placing his desire to win at all costs above his commitment to justice, Smith’s prosecutor has added an easily-avoided stain to U.S. justice.