Federal Judge In The Southern District Of New York Rebukes United States Attorney's Office For Failure To Disclose Exculpatory Information In United States v. Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad
On September 16, 2020, a United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York ordered federal prosecutors from the United States Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York to submit sworn declarations regarding their handling of withheld exculpatory information in the prosecution of an Iranian businessman, Ali Sadr Nejad, who was convicted in March 2020 of money laundering and sanctions violations. District Judge Alison Nathan ordered the sworn declarations to address the belated disclosure of this exculpatory information and the prosecutors’ previous response to the District Court about the same. In the past half-century since the United States Supreme Court issued Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S 83 (1963), both state and federal prosecutors have been required to turn over all exculpatory evidence (evidence that might exonerate the criminal defendant) to the defense before trial. Failing to do so can be grounds for a criminal defendant to obtain relief after a conviction.
In her September order, Judge Nathan disagreed with the United States Attorney’s Office explanation that there was “nothing” about the prosecutors’ actions in Mr. Sadr’s case that should be “condemned.” Instead, Judge Nathan delineated that “no responsible Government lawyer should strategize how to ‘bury’ a document that was not, but should have been, previously disclosed to the defense. A responsible Government lawyer should—at a minimum—forthrightly and truthfully reveal late disclosures to the defense.” Judge Nathan reiterated her concern that the Government’s prior representation to the District Court about the withheld evidence “was misleading.”
Several months after Mr. Sadr’s conviction, in June 2020, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York had moved to drop the charges against Mr. Sadr, citing “discovery-related issues” before, during, and after trial, and explaining the Government had decided it would not be in the “interests of justice” to continue to prosecute the case. Defendant Sadr’s attorneys argued that the proposed dismissal (a nolle prosequi) was not the appropriate mechanism for terminating the case, and rather, they requested the Southern District of New York set aside the verdict and dismiss the case with prejudice, a move which would prevent the United States Attorney’s Office from changing its mind about prosecuting Mr. Sadr, and bringing the case against him anew. The District Court has now ordered this under-oath declaration after also requiring all prosecutors in the United States Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York to review the ruling, explaining that “it is the firm view of the Court that if Government lawyers acted in bad faith by knowingly withholding exculpatory material from the defense or intentionally made a misleading statement to the Court, then some sanction or referral to the Grievance Committee of the Southern District of New York would be appropriate.”
The District Court’s steadfast response to the Brady violation in this case is an encouraging step toward transparency in the criminal justice system, which is highly adversarial, and often puts criminal defendants at a disadvantage from the outset, with the Government maintaining the control over the majority of the discovery relevant to a criminal case.To read more about the case United States v. Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad, click here.
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