West Virginia allows post-conviction Brady relief for a guilty plea in a case where exculpatory DNA evidence was withheld

“This Court is presented with a situation in which a defendant repeatedly requested the results of DNA testing; was incorrectly informed that such testing was not yet complete; and was presented with a time-limited plea offer that he accepted upon advice of counsel. We find that the DNA results were favorable, suppressed, and material to the defense. Thus, the Petitioner’s due process rights, as enunciated in Brady, were violated by the State’s suppression of that exculpatory evidence.”

Petitioner Joseph Buffey sought state habeas relief for a 2002 guilty plea to two counts of sexual assault and one count of robbery for the sexual assault and robbery of a now-deceased elderly woman. He was serving a sentence of seventy years to one hundred ten years. Through defense counsel, Buffey made repeated requests to the prosecutor for results of DNA testing in his case. He was offered a guilty which had an expiration date, and his defense counsel encouraged him to take the deal in light of both the expiration date and not knowing the DNA results. After Buffey took the plea and was sentenced, it was eventually discovered that the prosecutor had knowledge of the DNA results prior to Buffey entering his plea and that the DNA results indicated a different man had contributed the semen found in the physical evidence. Additionally, the victim specifically indicated that there was only one attacker in this crime.

The West Virginia Supreme Court determined that Brady is not limited to a trial right, noting that a plea has to be made knowingly and voluntarily. Similar to Brady claims after a guilty verdict at trial, the defendant must prove that the Brady evidence was material and that there was reasonable probability that the defendant would not have taken the plea had the evidence been disclosed. The court did not require a showing that the defendant would likely have been acquitted if the case had gone to trial. The court found it significant that Buffey’s defense counsel testified that he would have advised his client against taking the plea had he known about the DNA evidence. Buffey’s guilty plea will be withdrawn as a result of this decision.

http://www.courtswv.gov/supreme-court/docs/fall2015/14-0642.pdf

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