Petitioners’ problem is that their current alternative theory would have had to persuade the jury that both Alston and Bennett falsely confessed to being active participants in a group attack that never occurred; that Yarborough falsely implicated himself in that group attack and yet gave a highly similar account of how it occurred; that Thomas, an otherwise disinterested witness, wholly fabricated his story; that both Eleby and Jacobs likewise testified to witnessing a group attack that did not occur; and that Montgomery in fact did not see petitioners and others, as a group, identify Fuller as a target and leave together to rob her.
This portion of the majority’s opinion overlooks the fact that the defense does not have to convince the jury of anything. The burden is on the prosecution to prove every element of the charged offenses beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, the defense only has to raise reasonable doubt regarding the prosecution’s case. Moreover, it overlooks how common false confessions are and that they have been a common element in the DNA exoneration of the wrongfully-convicted. The majority’s efforts to get inside the minds of the jurors also overlooks the fact that there was likely additional exculpatory evidence that was either suppressed by the prosecution or not uncovered at all.
As for the undisclosed impeachment evidence, the record shows that it was largely cumulative of impeachment evidence petitioners already had and used at trial. This is not to suggest that impeachment evidence is immaterial with respect to a witness who has already been impeached with other evidence. But in the context of this trial, with respect to these witnesses, the cumulative effect of the withheld evidence is insufficient to undermine confidence in the jury’s verdict.
Justice Breyer wrote for a 6-2 majority of the Court. Justice Kagan authored a dissenting opinion in which she was joined by Justice Ginsburg. Justice Gorsuch did not participate in the consideration of the case.