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Supreme Court of Wyoming: No Brady Obligation to Search for Buried Data

On Friday, the Supreme Court of Wyoming issued a decision, Byerly v. State, 2019 Wyo. LEXIS 132 (Wyo. Dec. 27, 2019) affirming the lower court's denial of a motion for a new trial for on the basis of the suppression of evidence of data downloads from the victim's iPhone and iPad in an assault and battery case. No Brady violation was demonstrated showing that government had evidence it failed to disclose to the Defendant.

The victim could not remember the password for an iPhone she gave to the local sheriff's office, and the encrypted data on the device could not be accessed. The encrypted data was stored in a .tar file, a mirror image of the phone's encrypted data. Later, a separate download was then performed on the same iPhone, and the iPad, at which time the encryption password was available. With respect to the second set of downloads, the Court concluded that the Government met its obligations by informing defense counsel of the downloads and that a thumb drive with the data had been logged into evidence.

The Plaintiff contended that the Government had an obligation to use the password to access the data in the .tar file created from the first download. In his opinion, Chief Justice Michael K. Davis stated that, "[t]o charge prosecutors with knowledge of exculpatory evidence buried in the computer databases of institutions that collect and store vast amounts of digitized data would be an unreasonable extension of the Brady rule." Id. at *32. However, the Court declined to rule on the Government's Brady obligations with respect to the "unique nature of electronic data" because the parties' brief did not specifically address this issue. Id. at *33.

The Court noted that text messages in the first download about jaw pain suffered by the victim and the timing of event would not have affected the outcome of the trial; texts regarding photos of injuries were included in the second download; and texts regarding the victims visits to bars on the night of the incident were known to the defendant because he was copied on them.

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