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JENCKS V. UNITED STATES, 353 U. S. 657 (1957)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Jencks v. United States, 353 U.S. 657 (1957)

Jencks v. United States

No. 23

Argued October 17, 1956

Decided June 3, 1957

353 U.S. 657


Petitioner was convicted in a Federal District Court of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1001 by filing, under § 9(h) of the National Labor Relations Act, as president of a labor union, an affidavit stating falsely that he was not a member of the Communist Party or affiliated with such Party. Crucial testimony against him was given by two paid undercover agents for the FBI, who stated on cross-examination that they had made regular oral or written reports to the FBI on the matters about which they had testified. Petitioner moved for the production of these reports in court for inspection by the judge with a view to their possible use by petitioner in impeaching such testimony. His motions were denied.

Held: denial of the motions was erroneous, and the conviction is reversed. Pp. 353 U. S. 658-672.

(a) Petitioner was not required to lay a preliminary foundation for his motion, showing inconsistency between the contents of the reports and the testimony of the government agents, because a sufficient foundation was established by their testimony that their reports were of the events and activities related in their testimony. Gordon v. United States, 344 U. S. 414, distinguished. Pp. 353 U. S. 666-668.

(b) Petitioner was entitled to an order directing the Government to produce for inspection all written reports of the FBI agents in its possession, and, when orally made, as recorded by the FBI, touching the events and activities as to which they testified at the trial. P. 353 U. S. 668.

(c) Petitioner is entitled to inspect the reports to decide whether to use them in his defense. Pp. 353 U. S. 668-669.

(d) The practice of producing government documents to the trial judge for his determination of relevancy and materiality, without hearing the accused, is disapproved. P. 353 U. S. 669.

(e) Only after inspection of the reports by the accused must the trial judge determine admissibility of the contents and the method to be employed for the elimination of parts immaterial or irrelevant. P. 353 U. S. 669. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 353 U. S. 658

(f) Criminal action must be dismissed when the Government, on the ground of privilege, elects not to comply with an order to produce, for the accused's inspection and for admission in evidence, relevant statements or reports in its possession of government witnesses touching the subject matter of their testimony at the trial. Pp. 353 U. S. 669-672.

(g) The burden is the Government's, not to be shifted to the trial judge, to decide whether the public prejudice of allowing the crime to go unpunished is greater than that attendant upon the possible disclosure of state secrets and other confidential information in the Government's possession. P. 353 U. S. 672.

226 F.2d 540, 553, reversed.

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