The Washington Post

Supreme Court, reviewing conduct of New Orleans prosecutors, overturns conviction

The Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a Louisiana man’s murder conviction in its latest evaluation of whether prosecutors in New Orleans withhold evidence to win convictions.

In an 8 to 1 ruling written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the court said prosecutors who worked for former district attorney Harry Connick Sr. should have turned over to defense lawyers statements from one of the survivors of a 1995 shooting rampage that left five dead.

Larry Boatner was the sole witness against Juan Smith, who was convicted of five counts of first-degree murder. But it was not until lawyers were working on Smith’s appeal that they discovered documents in which Boatner initially said he could not identify any of the men involved in the shootings.

Since the court’s 1963 decision in Brady v. Maryland , prosecutors are obligated to turn over evidence that is favorable to the defense and material to the defendant’s guilt or punishment. New Orleans prosecutors argued that the documents were favorable to the defense but would not have changed the jury’s decision.

During oral arguments in November, the justices derided the prosecutors’ case, and Tuesday’s four-page opinion indicated that it had been an easy decision for them.

“Boatner’s testimony was the only evidence linking Smith to the crime,” Roberts wrote. “Boatner’s undisclosed statements were plainly material.”

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the lone dissent, complaining that the other justices did not look at the complete record of the trial in making their decision.

New Orleans prosecutors said immediately after the court’s decision that they will seek to retry Smith, who has also been convicted of a triple murder and is on death row.

Thomas last year wrote the majority opinion in another case involving Connick, who left office in 2003. In that 5 to 4 decision, the court stripped a $14 million award from John Thompson, who spent 14 years on death row after prosecutors withheld evidence that showed his innocence.

Thomas, joined by the court’s other conservatives, said that Thompson did not meet the high standard of showing a pattern of “deliberate indifference” on Connick’s part.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on behalf of the court’s liberals, read her dissent from the bench in that case, saying she would have upheld the award against Connick’s office for the “gross, deliberately indifferent and long-continuing violation of [Thompson’s] fair trial right.”

Smith’s lawyers point out that courts have overturned four death sentences from Orleans Parish because of violations of the Brady rules, and they say eight other non-capital cases have come to the same end.

The case is Smith v. Cain.

In a separate 8 to 1 decision, the court said that consumers who are unhappy about allegedly hidden costs in the credit cards they receive from “credit repair” companies must settle their claims through arbitration.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the court that language in the Credit Repair Organizations Act that says consumers have a “right to sue” is satisfied by the agreement they sign that says disputes will be handed by arbitration.

Ginsburg, the lone dissenter, said that such a reading “may be comprehensible to one trained to ‘think like a lawyer.’ ”

“But Congress enacted the CROA with vulnerable consumers in mind — consumers likely to read the words ‘right to sue’ to mean the right to litigate in court, not the obligation to submit disputes to binding arbitration.”

The case is CompuCredit Corp. v. Greenwood.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Republicans debated Saturday night. The New Hampshire primary is Feb. 9. Get caught up on the race.
Highlights from Saturday's GOP debate
Except for an eminent domain attack from Bush, Trump largely avoided strikes from other candidates.

Christie went after Rubio for never having been a chief executive and for relying on talking points.

Carson tried to answer a question on Obamacare by lamenting that he hadn't been asked an earlier question about North Korea.
The GOP debate in 3 minutes
Play Video
We have all donors in the audience. And the reason they're booing me? I don't want their money!
Donald Trump, after the debate crowd at St. Anselm's College booed him for telling Jeb Bush to be "quiet."
Play Video
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She's planning to head Sunday to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
55% 38%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.