Supreme Court Rules that a Prosecutor’s File Note cannot be the Basis for a New Trial

April 20, 2012

The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment today and ruled that a prosecutor’s handwritten note that was not turned over to the defendant before the trial of his case was not admissible as evidence and, therefore, was insufficient to support the defendant’s petition for a new trial. 

In Feb. 1994, a jury found Cyrus Deville Wilson guilty of first degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison. The conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal. In Aug. 2009, after obtaining a copy of the prosecutor’s file, Wilson discovered a note handwritten by an assistant prosecutor that expressed her opinion that it was a “good case but for most of the” witnesses were“juveniles who had already lied repeatedly.”  The defendant filed a petition for writ of error coram nobis, a statutory procedure that allows a defendant to seek a new trial based on newly discovered evidence relating to matters that were litigated at the trial if the judge determines the new evidence may have resulted in a different judgment had it been presented at trial. The trial court dismissed the petition because the assistant prosecutor’s note was attorney work product that was not subject to disclosure, but the Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed and ordered a hearing on the petition. 

In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Sharon G. Lee, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the petition for writ of error coram nobis was based on evidence that was attorney work product, which would not have been admissible at the trial of the defendant’s murder case.  Since the evidence was inadmissible, it would not have resulted in a different judgment at trial. Therefore, the Court reversed the Court of Criminal Appeals and reinstated the trial court’s judgment denying the petition for writ of error coram nobis. 

To read the Cyrus Deville Wilson v. State of Tennessee opinion authored by Justice Sharon G. Lee, visit http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/wilsoncyrus.opn_.pdf.