Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419 (1995)

2012-07-23 14:00:28

In Kyles, the Supreme Court clarified Brady v. Maryland by holding that the due process clause requires a retrial when the government withholds exculpatory information from a criminal defendant that, when viewed cumulatively, would have made a different outcome reasonably likely.

At Kyles’ murder trial, the prosecution presented four eyewitnesses and physical evidence, including the murder weapon, found in Kyles’ apartment and in his trash. Kyles claimed that a man known as ‘‘Beanie’’ committed the murder and framed Kyles.

After his conviction, Kyles discovered that the government had withheld exculpatory information, including statements from eyewitnesses whose descriptions did not match Kyles and contradictory statements from Beanie demonstrating that Beanie had inside knowledge about the murder. However, the lower courts denied Kyles a new trial.

The Supreme Court reversed Kyles’ conviction by a vote of five to four, holding that the lower courts had misapplied the test developed in United States v. Agurs and United States v. Bagley for deciding whether a Brady violation requires a new trial. The Court held that the lower courts erred by deciding whether each piece of withheld evidence, in isolation, would have made an acquittal reasonably likely instead of evaluating the cumulative effect of the withheld evidence. The Court concluded that all of the withheld evidence, considered together, likely would have changed the outcome.

Kyles thus rejected an approach that some lower courts had applied to Brady violations. After Kyles, courts must consider the entire picture to decide whether withheld evidence requires a new trial.


References and Further Reading

  • Imwinkelried, Edwin, and Norman Garland. Exculpatory
  • Evidence. 2nd Ed. Michie, 1996. Stacy, Tom, The Search for Truth in Constitutional Criminal Procedure, Columbia Law Review 91 (1991): 1369.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963)
  • United States v. Agurs, 427 U.S. 97 (1976)
  • United States v. Bagley, 473 U.S. 667 (1985)

See also Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963); Due Process; Fourteenth Amendment; United States v. Agurs, 427 U.S. 97 (1976)