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Materiality

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Today's theme out of the United States Supreme Court is materiality.  If you describe what happened in a case and people look puzzled and ask "So what?" you have a materiality issue.

Maslenjak v. United States, No. 16-309, involves the crime of lying in the naturalization process.  It is error to instruct the jury that they can convict on finding a false statement without also finding that the falsity somehow contributed to the decision.

Turner v. United States, 15-1503, involves the rule of Brady v. Maryland that prosecutors must turn over to the defense any material exculpatory evidence in their possession.  "Material" in this context means a reasonable probability it would have made a difference in the result.  The Court holds 6-2 that the evidence in this case was not material.

Weaver v. Massachusetts, No. 16-240, involves a claim that the defendant's trial lawyer was ineffective for failure to object to the exclusion of the public (including the defendant's mother) from an overcrowded courtroom during jury selection.  Violation of the public trial right is a "structural error," reversible without any showing that it mattered, but that claim was forfeited by failure to object.  Ineffective assistance of counsel is reversible only upon a showing of "prejudice" which means the same thing as "materiality" in the Brady context, i.e., a reasonable probability it made a difference.  The Court held that the prejudice requirement continues to apply even when the underlying error is "structural," or at least this particular subspecies of structural errors, and no prejudice has been shown here.

Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion of the Court.  Justice Thomas wrote a concurring opinion.  Justice Alito wrote an opinion concurring in the judgment.  Justice Gorsuch joined all three.  Justice Breyer dissented, joined by Justice Kagan.  CJLF filed an amicus brief in this case, written by Kym Stapleton.

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Justice Gorsuch's voting pattern in today's cases is quite encouraging.

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