A Material Change to Brady: Rethinking Brady v. Maryland, Materiality, and Criminal Discovery

Riley E. Clafton | March 19, 2020

How we think about the trial process, and the assumptions and beliefs we bring to bear on that process, shape how litigation is structured. This Comment demonstrates why materiality, and the theory of juridical proof informing that standard of materiality, must be redefined for Brady v. Maryland doctrine and criminal process. First, the Comment delineates the theory of explanationism—the revolutionary paradigm shift unfolding in the theory of legal proof. Explanationism conceptualizes juridical proof as a process in which the factfinder weighs the competing explanations offered by the parties against the evidence and the applicable burden of proof. Applying explanationism to criminal process demonstrates that explanationism not only is the more accurate account of juridical proof, but also better frames the criminal discovery process and ensures due process of law. The next section applies explanationism to Brady doctrine to show that the Supreme Court has tip-toed towards a more explanatory view of Brady v. Maryland but also faltered and lapsed back into a probabilistic inquiry at critical junctures. As a result, the efficacy of Brady is diminished where it is undermined by probabilistic theory or language. As a result, the doctrine should embrace explanationism more wholly. Under explanationism, materiality is determined by assessing whether the suppressed evidence could have been used by the defendant to influence the factfinder when presenting her case. To illustrate this argument and its importance in real-world outcomes, this Comment takes state and federal courts of Texas as a case study. In Texas, probabilistic definitions of materiality have thwarted both Brady doctrine and legislative criminal discovery reform. The case study demonstrates the material consequences for not rethinking materiality. Changing our understanding of materiality is critical to protecting the right to due process of law in our courthouses and state legislatures.