New York Federal Criminal Practice Blog
September 29, 2008

Second Circuit Reverses Bribery Conviction Due to Government’s Suppression of Brady Material

The government’s obligation to disclose Brady material encompasses not only oral, unrecorded statements of a cooperating witness that are favorable to the accused, as held in Rodriguez, previously discussed here, but also exculpatory statements communicated to the government by the witness’s lawyer, the Second Circuit held in United States v. Triumph Capital Group, Inc., 2008 WL 4349318 (2d Cir. September 25, 2008).

Brady Material Includes Notes of Witness’s Attorney’s Proffer

In Triumph, the defendant had been convicted after trial of racketeering, bribery, fraud and obstruction of justice, arising out a scheme to bribe the Deputy Treasurer of the State of Connecticut.  The bribee was the key cooperating witness at trial, but after the trial, he cooperated with the defense, and, no doubt to the dismay of the prosecutors, provided copies of notes he had made that had been communicated to the government in an attorney proffer as part of his initial plea negotiations.  These notes differed from his trial testimony in key respects.  While the government never had custody of the witness’s actual notes, it did have in its possession the notes an agent took of the attorney proffer.  It withheld these from the defense, however, until the defense made its motion for a new trial arguing suppression of exculpatory evidence.  The district court denied the motion, finding that the notes were not materially different from the witness’s trial testimony.

The Second Circuit disagreed.  In a decision authored by EDNY Judge Gleeson sitting by designation, the Court carefully analyzed the differences between the notes and the trial testimony, demonstrating that the notes “provided scant if any support for the inference that [the defendant] possessed the requisite intent to bribe or defraud.”  Finding the withholding of the agent’s notes of the attorney proffer “inexplicable,” the Court concluded that “the government deprived [the defendant] of exculpatory evidence going to the core of its bribery case against him,” as well as impeachment material that had a “real enough possibility to undermine confidence in the verdict.”  Accordingly, the Court reversed the racketeering, bribery and fraud convictions.

Destruction of Documents Likely to Be Subpoenaed by Grand Jury is Obstruction

Also of note in this decision is the Court’s analysis of the evidence supporting the obstruction of justice conviction.  The defendant had deleted certain documents from his laptop when he became aware that a grand jury investigation had commenced, albeit documents that were, at the time, not the subject of an outstanding subpoena.  On appeal, the defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to prove that he knew the documents would later be, or were likely later to be, requested by the grand jury, analogizing himself to the defendant in United States v. Aguilar, 515 U.S. 593 (1995), whose obstruction conviction was reversed because he could not be expected to have known that the false statements he made to an F.B.I. agent would be communicated to a grand jury. 

This time, the Second Circuit disagreed with the defendant.  There was a “crucial distinction” between Aguilar and this case: statements made to investigating agents may not necessarily be communicated to a grand jury, but grand jury subpoenas for documents are necessarily broad and sweeping.  Here, the Court concluded that “the inference that the grand jury would issue a subpoena for [the deleted documents] was quite strong, perhaps inescapable.”  Moreover, there was evidence of the defendant’s “awareness of the comprehensive nature” of subpoenas typically issued in grand jury investigations, that his company’s lawyers anticipated future subpoenas, and that the defendant had received advice from a former prosecutor that the grand jury would be likely to inspect the data on his laptop.  The obstruction conviction was therefore affirmed, although the Court remanded for resentencing, in the event the convictions on the reversed counts had influenced the length of time imposed on that count of conviction.

See Archives for all posts since September 2007.