In Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court held that a criminal defendant is entitled to favorable information possessed by the government following a request for that information so long as it would be material to determining guilt or determining the appropriate sentence. 373 U.S. 83, 87 (1963). The government’s failure to disclose such information violates the defendant’s right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. at 86.
Thus, a “Brady violation,” as it has come to be known, occurs where “there is reasonable probability that [a state actor has] suppressed evidence [that] would have produced a different verdict” in a convicted defendant's case. Strickler v. Greene, 527 U.S. 263, 281 (1999).
The courts are unclear, however, on whether the Fourteenth Amendment right to the disclosure of exculpatory evidence also extends to mere pretrial detainees. Yesterday the Eighth Circuit touched on the disagreement among the circuits over this issue in Livers v. Schenck:
Our sister circuits disagree over whether pretrial detainees such as Livers and Sampson have a right to disclosure of exculpatory evidence. The Fifth Circuit concluded a police officer’s “deliberate failure to disclose . . . undeniably credible and patently exculpatory evidence to the prosecuting attorney’s office” violates a clearly established constitutional right, Sanders v. English, 950 F.2d 1152, 1158, 1160-62 (5th Cir. 1992). The Fourth Circuit reached the opposite result in Taylor v. Waters, 81 F.3d 429, 435-37 (4th Cir. 1996). The Fourth Circuit determined a police officer’s failure “to disclose exculpatory evidence after a determination of probable cause has been made by a neutral detached magistrate” neither violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause nor “render[s] the continuing pretrial seizure of a criminal suspect unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” Id. at 436-37. Given the split of authority, we cannot say a pretrial right to disclosure of exculpatory evidence, if it exists, was clearly established in 2006. See Ambrose v. Young, 474 F.3d 1070, 1077 (8th Cir. 2007) (“Officials are not liable for bad guesses in gray areas; they are liable for transgressing bright lines.” (quoting Davis v. Hall, 375 F.3d 703, 712 (8th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Appellants are entitled to qualified immunity on Livers’ and Sampson’s claims based on any failure to disclose evidence.
You can read the Eighth Circuit’s full opinion here: Livers v. Schenck, Nos. 11-1877, 11-1879, 11-1880, 11-1917, & 11-1918 (8th Cir. Nov. 8, 2012).