1. “Did the Court of Appeals err when it conducted a purely de novo review of the trial court’s denial of a motion for mistrial for an alleged Brady violation, a ruling which is traditionally reviewed for an abuse of discretion?”
2. “In concluding that the non-disclosed evidence in this case was material because it ‘might have tipped the balance and resulted in an acquittal,’ did the Court of Appeals erroneously diverge from the proper materiality standard, specifically that evidence is material only if there is a reasonable probability that, had it been disclosed, the outcome of the trial would have been different?”
3. “In light of the entire body of evidence, did the Court of Appeals err in concluding that Appellant’s ability to impeach a witness regarding a distant extraneous offense with her own handwritten statement in reasonable probability would have resulted in a different outcome at trial, when that witness was actually impeached on the same issue in a different manner?”
At the guilt-phase of Hallman’s trial for sexually abusing Kim’s (his former girlfriend) daughter Amy, the State failed to disclose police records documenting an extraneous prior family violence incident that involved Kim, Amy, and Kim’s son. At the guilt-phase, Kim testified about the family violence incident and said she told police she had suspected Hallman abused Amy. Amy and her sister testified that they had told CPS no one had sexually abused them. Relying on his offense report, a detective testified that no one, including Kim, reported any sexual abuse.
Hallman was convicted of several sexual abuse offenses but acquitted of continuous sexual abuse. During the second day of the punishment phase, defense counsel informed the trial judge that the State had just disclosed all the police records—in addition to the detective’s report that had been previously disclosed. Included among the undisclosed documents was Kim’s handwritten report. Hallman requested a mistrial based on the Michael Morton Act (Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 39.14) discovery violation because Kim’s credibility was at issue and her statement from the family violence incident was inconsistent with her testimony. The trial court denied the request for a mistrial; it ruled that the essential information in the detective’s report included the statements made by Kim and Hallman.
The court of appeals held the trial court abused its discretion in denying Hallman’s motion for a mistrial. Concluding that part of the Morton Act codifies Brady v. Maryland, the court held that Kim’s statement was favorable because of its impeachment value and that it was material. According to the court, there is a reasonable probability it might have tipped the balance and resulted in an acquittal on the counts Hallman was convicted of.
The State argues that the court of appeals paid “lip service” to the abuse of discretion standard of review while actually applying a de novo standard. Next, the court misapplied the materiality prong. Brady requires a reasonable probability that the outcome would have been different, not a “possibility” the outcome “could” have been different. The State also faults the court for failing to consider the undisclosed evidence against the strength of all the evidence supporting the State’s case. “The ultimate result . . . is that speculative, low-value impeachment evidence of a non-complaining witness, concerning an extraneous and attenuated offense, is now considered ‘material’ under Brady.”