“While reviewing a violation of the Michael Morton Act, the Court of Appeals erred in its materiality analysis.”
At the punishment phase of trial, the State offered multiple pen packets and booking sheets to prove its enhancement allegations as well as extraneous offenses. Watkins objected that the State had not disclosed the exhibits in discovery, and the State, believing that it was not required to, agreed it had not. The trial court admitted the exhibits.
On appeal, Watkins argued that the admission of the exhibits violated Code of Criminal Procedure Article 39.14, which states in part that the State must disclose various items that “constitute or contain evidence material to any matter involved in the action.” The court of appeals ultimately found the exhibits were not material. It acknowledged that if it were “writing on a clean slate,” it would be inclined to include punishment phase trial exhibits within the meaning of “material to any matter involved in the action.” But it felt compelled to follow Court of Criminal Appeals precedent construing materiality under Article 39.14 to be the same as for a Brady v. Maryland claim, i.e., that there be “a reasonable probability that had the evidence been disclosed, the outcome of the trial would have been different.” Although the precedent pre-dated the Morton Act amendments to Art. 39.14, the amendments did not change the text of that phrase. Applying the controlling standard, the court of appeals observed that Watkins had pleaded true to the enhancement paragraphs and had notice that the State intended to prove the other extraneous convictions through the State’s Article 37.07 notice. The court concluded that even if the exhibits had been produced, there was no reasonable probability that the outcome of the punishment hearing would have been different.
Watkins argues the court of appeals applied the wrong standard for materiality. He contends that the Morton Act’s significant alterations to the discovery statute made the pre-Morton materiality standard inapplicable. Before the Morton Act eliminated it, defendants were required to show good cause. As a result, cases frequently stated that discovery violations were reversible error only if the omitted evidence created a reasonable doubt that did not otherwise exist. Watkins contends that the similarity between this standard and Brady materiality resulted in the two being “inextricably intertwined.” Watkins also argues that the Morton Act’s intent to broaden discovery cannot be accomplished without retreating from the prior understanding of materiality. Many of the items that the Morton Act added to what the State must disclose do not fit the old definition of materiality, and yet their addition is an express intent that they be turned over. Watkins also argues that because Brady and the Morton Act are not similar in scope, they should not employ the same definition of materiality. He adds that the court of appeals was not constrained to follow the Court of Criminal Appeals decision since the Legislature has since amended the statute through the Morton Act. He contends the court of appeals should have adopted a construction of the statute that effectuated the Legislature’s intended changes.