The Ninth Circuit in the recent Garrison decision handed down derisory curative instructions for serious and repeated Brady and Giglio violations. There was no outrage expressed or even demand for training or reform. The panel affirmed a conviction for conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. As a lawyer who specializes in federal drug cases, I have fought hard to remedy Brady and Giglio violations, and I am troubled that the Garrison decision could drain the defense bar of litigation tools to protect important due process rights for our clients in the future.
The appellant Garrison was a physician’s assistant. His clinic used patient recruiters to bring in homeless people to prescribe OxyContin, and the clinic then relieved patients of the pills and sold the OxyContin illegally. Much of the Garrison decision decried the dangers of opioids and lectured on the responsibilities of medical professionals rather than narrowing in on the responsibilities of our government to follow due process standards, which was the subject of this appeal.
The Brady and Giglio violations in this case were serious. Garrison presented the perfect factual matrix for the panel to reprimand government due process violations. Before and during trial, the government repeatedly failed to timely disclose information to the defense, as was required by law. For example, two government cooperators helped a third witness fabricate a false medical report and submit it to a probation officer and a judge. Though the government knew, it did not disclose notes of this conduct to the defense.
In addition, a cooperating co-defendant who was given a special deal that allowed her to continue to work in the medical field was not disclosed to the defense (or court) even after the cooperator testified in direct. It is rare that Brady and Giglio violations are so clear-cut because often the secret nature of such violations prevents the defense from discovering them and litigating.
The panel agreed with Garrison that there is no dispute that the government failed to comply with Brady and Giglio requirements. However, the panel found that the trial court’s jury instruction that the government had disclosed evidence late and that the jury could draw adverse inferences from that late disclosure remedied these violations.
This ruling is disturbingly toothless, and the panel failed to take a nuanced view on whether such jury instructions were sufficient. The district court did not provide a fulsome explanation of the due process rights at stake. Merely telling a jury that it can find a defendant–who it just heard overwhelming inculpatory evidence about, and for a serious crime that is notorious in the news–not guilty due to late disclosure misses the point. Framed this way, late disclosure appears trivial, like bad housekeeping rather than bad faith law enforcement. When fundamental due process rights are at stake, juries should be shown the big picture–the importance due process rights play in protecting the integrity of our criminal justice system. The panel’s decision in Garrison similarly lacked this critical perspective.
The Garrison decision seems to tacitly condone wholesale government Brady and Giglio violations so long as the evidence gathered supports a conviction. This, of course, will only strengthen a culture of impunity felt by some prosecutors, which the Ninth Circuit warned against only five years ago in the Olsen decision, where it concluded that the “epidemic of Brady violations” was something that “only judges can put a stop to.”