The Other Guy Confessed. Shouldn’t You Know?

The other guy confessed, but you're the accused. Should the government get to suppress the confession?
The other guy confessed, but you're the accused. Should the government get to suppress the confession?

Marking the Passing of E. Clinton Bamberger

Say you happen to be standing trial for murder. Let’s suppose that somehow you got yourself entangled in a bit of a mess and that you weren’t alone when you got into trouble. A friend (dare we call him a co-conspirator?) accompanied you on your night of mayhem. Let’s suppose that someone got killed that evening, and you were accused of the dastardly crime. Let’s agree that down at the police station, there wasn’t a let’s-all-be-friends conference with you, your buddy, and the officers.

Now just suppose that while you were locked in a room elsewhere, your buddy confessed to the crime. Yet here you are, up on murder charges. Wouldn’t you kinda want to know that someone, especially someone who was on-site when the bad acts occurred, confessed? And, at the very least, wouldn’t you want the government to disclose that confession during, if not before, your trial?

The lawyer responsible for the Brady rule requiring the prosecution's disclosure of exculpatory evidence has passed away.

The lawyer responsible for the Brady rule, requiring the prosecution’s disclosure of exculpatory evidence, has passed away.

Well, of course you would. But the prosecution did not always disclose such information. Fortunately, the Supreme Court of the United States, in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), held that suppression of confessions like this violates the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. The requirement that such evidence be disclosed by prosecutors came to be known as the Brady rule for the defendant/petitioner who had been found guilty of murder.

The Maryland lawyer who represented Brady, E. Clinton Bamberger, died on Feb. 12, 2017 at age 90. He earned his law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center.

—Lori Tripoli

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