Aguilar v. Woodford

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 07-29-2013
  • Case #: 09-55575
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Fletcher for the Court; Circuit Judge Pregerson; District Judge Bennett
  • Full Text Opinion

Under Brady v. Maryland, the prosecution impermissibly withholds evidence and violates due process when (1) the evidence is favorable to the defendant; (2) the government had knowledge of the evidence because it had previously stipulated to it in another case; and (3) absent the evidence in question, there was nothing tying the defendant to the scene of the crime.

Gilbert Aguilar was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder for killing John Guerrero while he was in his car. The only evidence that tied Aguilar to the scene was a police dog’s alert, using a “scent pad,” that Aguilar’s scent was present on Guerrero’s car. On appeal, Aguilar argued that the prosecution violated Brady v. Maryland by failing to disclose the police dog’s history of mistaken identifications. The California Court of Appeal disagreed, affirming the lower court’s conviction and holding that the dog scent evidence was immaterial “because had the jury been given that evidence, it is not reasonably probably that the result would have been different.” Aguilar then filed this federal habeas corpus petition, claiming that the Court of Appeal’s application of Brady was unreasonable. The U.S. Supreme Court in Brady held that withholding exculpatory evidence violates due process “where the evidence is material to either guilt or to punishment.” To assert a Brady claim, the defendant must hurdle a three part test: (1) the evidence is exculpatory or impeaching; (2) it is suppressed by the state; and (3) there is resulting prejudice against the defendant. The Ninth Circuit reversed the state Court of Appeal’s decision because Aguilar met all three prongs of the Brady test. First, the evidence was exculpatory because the fact that the police dog had made several previous mistaken identifications was extremely beneficial to Aguilar’s defense. Secondly, the government had knowledge of the evidence because the prosecutor’s office had previously stipulated to the dog’s mistaken identifications in an earlier case. Lastly, the panel held that the evidence was prejudicial because absent the dog’s identification of Aguilar’s scent on the car, there was no evidence that tied Aguilar to the murder scene. REVERSED and REMANDED; PETITION GRANTED.

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