Latest News 2017 October The Napue Doctrine: Protecting You from False Testimony

The Napue Doctrine: Protecting You from False Testimony

Continuing our criminal defense blog's mission to keep readers informed about their rights, today we're discussing the Napue Doctrine. Like the Brady rule, the Napue rule governs how the prosecution is able to develop and try their case against you. If you haven't read our article about Brady material and how it affects your rights, check out the related article links below.

When it comes to eyewitness testimony (or any testimony), the most vital issue at stake is the credibility of the witness. If a witness testifies they saw the defendant at the scene of the crime, then the strength of the testimony will differ between someone with perfect vision and someone who is legally blind. The Napue rule governs how the prosecutors may establish the credibility of their witnesses.

In our article on Brady material, we mentioned that the prosecutors' relationship with a witness needs to be disclosed to the defense—for instance, if the witness is receiving some kind of benefit for testifying against the defendant, then it affects the credibility of what they say. Prosecutors sometimes offer plea deals or immunity deals to witnesses in exchange for their cooperation, and the defendant has the right to know that information.

Similarly, the Napue rule prevents prosecutors from using or allowing falsehoods to shore up the credibility of the witness. For example, if the witness lies about being offered a plea deal when asked, the prosecution is duty-bound to disclose that the witness is being dishonest. Even if the witness isn't lying about the facts of the case specifically, lying in order to establish credibility is barred.

Napue Violations in Action

In July's blog, we discussed the case against Ingmar Guandique, the man formerly convicted of murdering Chandra Levy in 2001. The state's case rested on the testimony of Armando Morales—a known prison informant. However, when Morales was asked point-blank if he had ever provided information to law enforcement before (i.e. if he was a habitual informant), he said no.

The prosecution knew he was lying. In addition, Morales testified to other facts that the prosecution either could have easily discovered were false or should have known weren't true. Despite this, the jury was not informed—and the defense wasn't able to challenge Morales' claims until trial was over. Thankfully, the defense filed their investigation with the court and their client was granted a retrial—eventually getting a dismissal.

Consider that due to the Napue violation, a man went from serving a 60-year sentence to having the charges dropped completely. That's how much a witness' credibility can affect your case. When you hire a criminal defense attorney, you're hiring someone to do more than represent you in court—you're hiring someone to have a nose for rights violations, to know when something is unfairly stacked against you.

It's rules like the Brady rule or the Napue rule that protect you from prosecutors who care more about conviction than the truth. It's criminal defense attorneys who hold those prosecutors accountable for underhanded tactics—explicit or not.