Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly


Steven Wall


This Note will focus on the unique helplessness of innocent defendants who have plead guilty in cases involving governmental misconduct. The Supreme Court has recognized that our criminal justice system is, for the most part, a system of pleas rather than trials. Unfortunately, there are many indications that innocent people plead guilty. The most developed realm of law being used to push for measures to reduce the occurrence of this phenomena is the body of cases stemming from Brady v. Maryland. Brady v. Maryland requires prosecutors to disclose material exculpatory evidence (evidence demonstrating actual innocence) and impeaching evidence at trial. While this right is firmly recognized as a trial right and several circuits have expanded the scope of Brady v. Maryland to plea bargaining, the Supreme Court has expressed a much narrower view. In United States v. Ruiz-the only Supreme Court case to address Brady rights in the context of plea bargaining-the Supreme Court held that material impeachment evidence is not required to be disclosed prior to entering guilty pleas. Thus, the Court has indicated that plea bargaining does not necessarily require the same disclosures as a trial when ensuring that due process rights are not infringed upon. This Note will address: (1) why Brady disclosures are not required prior to plea agreements, (2) why the courts are ill-suited to respond to this problem, and the legislative body should, instead, develop a proper remedy, and (3) suggestions for a reasonable course of action that may be adopted.