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No Brady Hearing on Planned Civil Suit

Deborah Elkins//September 10, 2012

No Brady Hearing on Planned Civil Suit

Deborah Elkins//September 10, 2012//

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A Charlottesville Circuit Court denies defendant George Huguely V’s motion for an evidentiary hearing on his claim that the commonwealth violated Brady v. Maryland by withholding information about plans by the family of the victim, Huguely’s fellow UVa student and former girlfriend, to file a civil suit for wrongful death.

The defense is seeking a hearing to determine exactly what the commonwealth knew about the pending civil action and when the commonwealth obtained any information it had.

Many courts have denied Brady claims on the ground that the defendant could have discovered the evidence through reasonable diligence. Defendant claims recent Brady cases have done away with a “reasonable diligence” requirement, but other recent cases clearly illustrate that the reasonable diligence requirement is alive and well in Virginia.

The value of the defense in questioning the victim’s family about the differing theories between the criminal case and the planned civil suit is impossible to determine in the abstract, but is not likely to have resulted in any exculpatory effect in any phase of the trial. It is clear that nothing about this civil case would have influenced the guilt or innocence phase of the criminal trial. Questioning the victim’s mother about plans to sue and about raising money for a foundation dedicated to the memory of her daughter and other related issues may have inspired some sympathy for defendant or may have done just the opposite. It is doubtful that had the defense been provided more information the result would have been different, and it cannot be said that for this reason defendant was deprived of a fair trial.

But even if there can be found that there was an otherwise-valid Brady claim, this claim is not actionable when the defendant fails to exercise reasonable diligence. It cannot be said in this case that defense counsel exercised reasonable diligence in attempting to discover the status of the family’s potential civil suit. Defendant submitted hundreds of news stories in support of his motion to sequester jurors in light of significant pretrial publicity, and many of these referenced defendant’s family’s socio-economic status and wealth. This information reasonably relates to the ability of defendant and/or his family to pay a substantial civil judgment. Accepting defense counsel’s assertion that information regarding an imminent and certain civil proceeding would have affected their cross-examination strategy, this information should have led defense counsel to inquire further into the status of any civil proceeding.

The record is devoid of any evidence showing that any investigation was conducted prior to trial into the existence of plans to sue, the cause of action anticipated or the amount sought in damages.

Commonwealth v. Huguely (Hogshire) No. 11-102, Aug. 15, 2012; Charlottesville Cir.Ct.; Francis McQ. Lawrence for defendant; Warner D. Chapman. VLW 012-8-129, 10 pp.

VLW 012-8-129

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