The current Brady rule requires prosecutors to make two judgments: Is evidence favorable to the defendant? If so, is it likely to affect a decision about guilt or punishment? Too often, prosecutors avoid disclosing evidence by answering no to the second question.
In ruling on the Smith case, the court should refine the Brady rule by eliminating the second question and requiring that prosecutors hand over all favorable evidence. Let a judge or jury weigh its importance.
The racial disparities in sentencing are also stark. In some cases, mandatory minimums can be reduced for offenders if the crime did not involve violence or a gun. But most African-American drug offenders convicted of a crime carrying a mandatory minimum sentence could not meet these and other requirements: only 39 percent qualified for a reduction compared with 64 percent of whites.
The report notes that inequitable sentencing policies “may foster disrespect for and lack of confidence in the federal criminal justice system.” Not “may.” Given the well-documented unfairness, Congress needs to rescind all mandatory minimum sentences.