484 U.S. 400 (1988), 86-5963, Taylor v. Illinois

Docket Nº:No. 86-5963
Citation:484 U.S. 400, 108 S.Ct. 646, 98 L.Ed.2d 798, 56 U.S.L.W. 4118
Party Name:Taylor v. Illinois
Case Date:January 25, 1988
Court:United States Supreme Court

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484 U.S. 400 (1988)

108 S.Ct. 646, 98 L.Ed.2d 798, 56 U.S.L.W. 4118




No. 86-5963

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 25, 1988

Argued October 7, 1987




Well in advance of petitioner's state court trial for attempted murder, the prosecutor filed a discovery motion requesting a list of defense witnesses. Petitioner's answer failed to list one Wormley, as did his amended answer, submitted and accepted on the first day of trial, identifying two witnesses who were never called to testify. On the second day of trial, after the prosecution's two principal witnesses had completed their testimony, petitioner's counsel made an oral motion to further amend the discovery answer to include Wormley. Counsel explained that Wormley had probably seen the entire incident that led to the indictment, and that, although petitioner had told counsel about Wormley earlier, counsel had been unable to locate Wormley. At a subsequent voir dire examination, Wormley testified that he had not been a witness to the incident itself, but had earlier seen the victim and his brother carrying guns and threatening petitioner, and that he just happened to run into petitioner and warned him to watch out. On cross-examination, Wormley acknowledged that he had first met petitioner over two years after the incident in question, and that defense counsel had visited him at his home during the week before the trial began. As a sanction for the failure to identify Wormley in the discovery answer, the trial judge refused to allow Wormley to testify before the jury. The judge explained that petitioner's counsel had committed a blatant and willful violation of the discovery rules, and that the judge doubted the veracity of Wormley's testimony. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed petitioner's conviction.


1. The Compulsory Process Clause of the Sixth Amendment may, in an appropriate case, be violated by the imposition of a discovery sanction that entirely excludes the testimony of a material defense witness. The Clause is not merely a guarantee that the accused shall have the power to subpoena witnesses, but confers on the accused the fundamental right to present witnesses in his own defense. Pp. 407-409.

2. However, the Compulsory Process Clause does not create an absolute bar to preclusion of the testimony of a defense witness as a sanction for violating a discovery rule. Although a trial court may not ignore the fundamental character of the defendant's right to offer the testimony of witnesses in his favor, the mere invocation of that right cannot automatically and invariably outweigh countervailing public interests. If discovery

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violations are willful and motivated by a desire to obtain a tactical advantage or to conceal a plan to present fabricated testimony, it would be entirely appropriate to exclude the witnesses' testimony regardless of whether other, less drastic sanctions might be available, adequate, and merited. Pp. 410-416.

3. The exclusion of Wormley's testimony did not constitute constitutional error. Pp. 416-418.

(a) The fact that the voir dire examination of Wormley may have adequately [108 S.Ct. 649] protected the prosecution from prejudice resulting from surprise does not render the imposition of the preclusion sanction unnecessarily harsh. The record raises strong inferences that petitioner's counsel was deliberately seeking a tactical advantage in failing to list Wormley as a witness, and that "witnesses [were] being found that really weren't there." Thus, the case fits into the category of willful misconduct for which the severe sanction of preclusion is justified in order to protect the integrity of the judicial process. Pp. 416-417.

(b) It is not unfair to hold petitioner responsible for his lawyer's misconduct. The lawyer necessarily has full authority to manage the conduct of the trial, and the client must accept the consequences of the lawyer's trial decisions. Pp. 417-418.

141 Ill.App.3d 839, 491 N.E.2d 3, affirmed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 419. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 438.

STEVENS, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

As a sanction for failing to identify a defense witness in response to a pretrial discovery request, an Illinois trial

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judge refused to allow the undisclosed witness to testify. The question presented is whether that refusal violated the petitioner's constitutional right to obtain the testimony of favorable witnesses. We hold that such a sanction is not absolutely prohibited by the Compulsory Process Clause of the Sixth Amendment, and find no constitutional error on the specific facts of this case.1


A jury convicted petitioner in 1984 of attempting to murder Jack Bridges in a street fight on the south side of Chicago on August 6, 1981. The conviction was supported by the testimony of Bridges, his brother, and three other witnesses. They described a 20-minute argument between Bridges and a young man named Derrick Travis, and a violent encounter that occurred over an hour later between several friends of Travis, including petitioner, on the one hand, and Bridges, belatedly aided by his brother, on the other. The incident was witnessed by 20 or 30 bystanders. It is undisputed that at least three members of the group which included Travis and petitioner were carrying pipes and clubs that they used to beat Bridges. Prosecution witnesses also testified that petitioner had a gun, that he shot Bridges in the back as he attempted to flee, and that, after Bridges fell, petitioner pointed the gun at Bridges' head, but the weapon misfired.

Two sisters, who are friends of petitioner, testified on his behalf. In many respects, their version of the incident was consistent with the prosecution's case, but they testified that it was Bridges' brother, rather than petitioner, who possessed a firearm, and that he had fired into the group, hitting

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his brother by mistake. No other witnesses testified for the defense.

Well in advance of trial, the prosecutor filed a discovery motion requesting a list of defense witnesses.2 In his original response, petitioner's attorney identified the two sisters who later [108 S.Ct. 650] testified and two men who did not testify.3 On the first day of trial, defense counsel was allowed to amend his answer by adding the names of Derrick Travis and a Chicago police officer; neither of them actually testified.

On the second day of trial, after the prosecution's two principal witnesses had completed their testimony, defense counsel made an oral motion to amend his "Answer to Discovery" to include two more witnesses, Alfred Wormley and Pam Berkhalter. In support of the motion, counsel represented that he had just been informed about them, and that they had probably seen the "entire incident."4

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In response to the court's inquiry about defendant's failure to tell him about the two witnesses earlier, counsel acknowledged that defendant had done so, but then represented that he had been unable to locate Wormley.5 After noting that the witnesses' names could have been supplied even if their addresses were unknown, the trial judge directed counsel to bring them in the next day, at which time he would decide whether they could testify. The judge indicated that he was concerned about the possibility "that witnesses are being found that really weren't there."6

The next morning, Wormley appeared in court with defense counsel.7 After further colloquy about the consequences of a violation of discovery rules, counsel was permitted to make an offer of proof in the form of Wormley's testimony outside the presence of the jury. It developed that Wormley had not been a witness to the incident itself. He testified that, prior to the incident, he saw Jack Bridges and his brother with two guns in a blanket, that he heard them say "they were after Ray [petitioner] and the other people," and that, on his way home, he "happened to run into Ray and them" and warned them "to watch out because they got

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weapons."8 On cross-examination, Wormley [108 S.Ct. 651] acknowledged that he had first met defendant "about four months ago" (i.e., over two years after the incident). He also acknowledged that defense counsel had visited him at his home on the Wednesday of the week before the trial began. Thus, his testimony rather dramatically contradicted defense counsel's representations to the trial court.

After hearing Wormley testify, the trial judge concluded that the appropriate sanction for the discovery violation was to exclude his testimony. The judge explained:

THE COURT: All right, I am going to deny Wormley an opportunity to testify here. He is not going to testify. I find this is a blatent [sic] violation of the discovery rules, willful violation of the rules. I also feel that defense attorneys have been violating discovery in this courtroom in the last three or four cases blatantly, and I am going to put a stop to it and this is one way to do so.

Further, for whatever value it is, because this is a jury trial, I have a great deal of doubt in my mind as to the veracity of this young man that testified as to whether he was an eyewitness on the scene, sees guns that are wrapped up. He doesn't know Ray, but he stops Ray.

At any rate, Mr. Wormley is not going to testify, be a witness in this courtroom.

App. 28.

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The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed petitioner's conviction. ...

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