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United States v. Agurs

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Bloomberg Law

Citation. 427 U.S. 97, 96 S. Ct. 2392, 49 L. Ed. 2d 342, 1976 U.S. 72

Brief Fact Summary. The prosecutor did not disclose that the defendant’s victim had an extensive criminal record. Counsel for the defendant argued that such information would have bolstered a self-defense argument, and sought a new trial.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. “The prosector’s failure to tender [evidence] to the defense did not deprive respondent of a fair trial . . ., where it appears the record was not requested by defense counsel” and did not involve perjury, and the trial judge was “convinced of [defendant's] guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” taking the evidence into consideration within the record, and that “the judge’s first hand appraisal of the entire record was thorough and entirely reasonable.”


Facts. Defendent Agurs ["the Defendant"] was convicted of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of the Victim, James Sewell ["the Victim"].
On September 24, 1971, the Defendant and the Victim registered at a hotel as man and wife. The Victim had two knives on his person. The Victim’s estranged wife testified he had $360 with him as well.
Fifteen minutes later, three hotel employees hear the Defendant screaming for help. Upon forced entry, the employees found the Defendant and the Victim struggling for possession of one of the knives. The Victim had several wounds. The parties were separated and the police were called.
The Victim was DOA. The Defendant had no knife wounds. No money was found in the Victim’s personal effects.
Defendant’s counsel argued for self-defense. Defendant was nonetheless convicted of second-degree murder.
Three months, later, defense counsel filed a motion for a new trial, as he had discovered that “(1) that [the Victim] had a prior criminal record that would have further enhanced his violent character; (2) that the prosecutor had failed to disclose this information to the defense; and (3) that a recent opinion of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit made it clear that such evidence was admissible even if not known to the defendant.”

Issue. “Whether the prosecutor has any constitutional duty to volunteer exculpatory matter to the defense, and if so, what standard of materiality gives rise to that duty.”

Content Type: Brief


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