April 09, 2021

Firm defeats motion to dismiss in SDNY

Today, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied the City of New York’s motion for partial judgment on the pleadings and held that firm client Jawaun Fraser’s claims could proceed. Mr. Fraser alleges that the defendants violated Brady v. Maryland when they disclosed to the defense only two of the 38 lawsuits filed against the team of narcotics officers who arrested him—and were the sole witnesses to testify at his trial. The defendants argued, essentially, that Mr. Fraser’s Brady claims must be dismissed because the lawsuits were public records and the prosecution had no duty to inquire into civil lawsuits filed against testifying officers. The court rejected both arguments. You can read its decision here and the New York Law Journal’s coverage of the decision here.

The district court, notably, rejected the New York Court of Appeals’ holding in People v. Garrett, 23 N.Y.3d 878 (2014), that prosecutors have no duty to inquire into civil lawsuits filed against testifying officers. Instead, the court held, “Brady and its progeny do not contain such an exception. . . . When the primary evidence against the defendant is the testimony of police officers, prosecutors have a duty to inquire about potential impeachment material that reflects on the credibility of those officers. The Constitution does not endorse a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy with respect to Brady material.” The court further held that, notwithstanding Garrett, “police officers who are key prosecution witnesses in a criminal trial are obligated under Brady to disclose the existence of civil lawsuits or other allegations of misconduct filed against them that bear on their credibility.”

Matthew Wasserman took the lead on the briefs, with the help of Haran Tae and under the supervision of firm principal Joel Rudin.