Latest News 2017 September Why We Need the Brady Rule: Another Look

Why We Need the Brady Rule: Another Look

In a blog from earlier this year, we brought up the vital importance of the Brady rule—a procedure by which prosecutors are required to reveal all evidence that supports or strengthens the defendant's case. By deliberately or inadvertently withholding evidence that could exonerate the defendant, Brady violations are considered a violation of a defendant's constitutional right to a fair trial.

As a result, when a Brady violation is found, a defendant is immediately entitled to a new trial.

Police, investigators, and prosecutors are all required to uphold the Brady rule. Even if a prosecutor was unaware of a piece of evidence during trial, the state is still held accountable for withholding it. This incentivizes police officers to turn over every piece of evidence they find in a given case.

For people who have never been on trial, this may seem pedantic. However, the Brady rule is designed to force prosecutors to "play by the rules," to protect innocent people from being imprisoned. In a blog from July, we talked about the case of a murder suspect who had no evidence on his side except one: the shaky testimony of a jailhouse informant.

However, the testimony (and where it came from) was withheld from the defense team, preventing them from (rightfully) questioning the witness' credibility.

Last month, the New York Times highlighted another case where the Brady rule was flagrantly violated: the case of Noura Jackson.

Violence in the Heart of the Suburbs

Noura Jackson was convicted of killing her mother, an investment banker in her late 30s. Her mother's body was found with over 50 stab wounds, a shocking display of violence in an otherwise safe and quiet neighborhood. Though Noura had a history of violence, there was no physical evidence tying her to the scene of the crime at the time of death.

In fact, the majority of testimony at trial was barely relevant to the death of Noura's mother—much of it was used to paint a picture of Noura as violent, angry, and unstable.

One of the only pieces of concrete evidence tying Jackson to the scene of the crime was a call made to her friend Andrew Hammack. Hammack said he received a call from Noura between 4 and 5 am asking him to meet at her house. The prosecuting attorney (who later built a political career on being "tough on crime") used this as evidence that Noura was scheming in order to have a witness "discover" the body with her. She then demanded to hear from Noura where she was that night, despite the fact that Noura declined to speak at her trial—a common decision for defendants.

Noura was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison.

However, shortly after trial ended, the assistant prosecutor submitted a piece of evidence that he had forgotten about—a note from Hammack written to the police early in the investigation. In the note, Hammack mentioned leaving his cellphone with a friend that night and taking mind-altering drugs. Such evidence would have severely damaged his testimony regarding the call from Noura.

The Tennessee Supreme Court unanimously overturned Noura's conviction in 2014, citing the violation of the Brady discovery rule and the prosecutor's implication of Noura's lack of testimony as evidence of her guilt.

It was still months before she was free.

To learn more about Noura's story, visit the article link above.

Categories: Homicide