The Court of Appeals in YOUNG v. U.S., decided on July 28, 2016, highlighted and analyzed factual circumstances in which granting immunity to a witness is required by the government.
Mr. Young was arrested and charged with possession with intent to distribute (“PWID”) liquid PCP and was accordingly convicted at trial. Before trial, the defendant’s nephew indicated that if he were granted immunity from criminal prosecution – he would testify that he was the last person who drove the vehicle where the drugs were discovered.
The government did not offer immunity and the trial court did not require as such and the witness invoked his 5th amendment rights at trial and thus the potentially exculpatory evidence was not offered.
On appeal defendant argued that the immunity was required as the evidence was clearly exculpatory – the appellate court affirm the trial court ruling that the evidence was exculpatory but not “clearly exculpatory.”
Both the court and the appellate court relied on the ruling of Carter v. United States to determine when and where immunity is legally required. In short immunity is required where the testimony is clearly exculpatory.
More specifically, immunity is required only when the government has:
- Engaged in discriminatory use of immunity to gain a tactical advantage or,
- Through its own overreaching has forced the witness to invoke the Fifth Amendment;
- The witness’[s] testimony will be material, exculpatory and
- Not cumulative and is not obtainable from any other source.
That in essence government has a constitutional duty to volunteer exculpatory evidence to a criminal defendant.
The Court of Appeals determined that the testimony offered by the witness was exculpatory but not wholly and entirely.
That is, if the witnesses’ proffered testimony was that the drugs were his and not the defendant’s – then the Carter requirement were met and immunity was required.
Here the testimony was only that the witness was the last person who drove the car.
In fact, independent evidence established that the witness has already indicated in the suppression hearing that the drugs did not belong to him. On the other hand, the defendant had prior to the arrest attempted to cover the drugs and had shown knowledge and constructive possession of the liquid PCP.
The Court also analyzes the implications from Brady decision and what constitutes exculpatory. The evidence is material when it negates guilt and there is a reasonable probability that the results of the trial/the outcome would be different.
There were considerable evidence of defendant’s “ability and intent to exercise dominion and control over the drugs” such as the vehicle prior to the arrest smelled of PCP, defendant covered up the PCP when the door was opened, and expressed to the Officers that the vials of drugs were oils – all independent and direct evidence of guilt.
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