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United States v. Nobles

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued April 23, 1975 ; June 23, 1975

No. 74-634

Opinion

 [****5]   [*227]   [***147]   [**2164]  MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

 In a criminal trial, defense counsel sought to impeach the credibility of key prosecution witnesses by testimony of a defense investigator regarding statements previously obtained from the witnesses by the investigator. The question presented here is whether in these circumstances a federal trial court may compel the defense to reveal the relevant portions of the investigator's report for the prosecution's use in cross-examining him. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concluded that it cannot. 501 F. 2d 146. We granted certiorari, 419 U.S. 1120 (1975), and now reverse.

Respondent was tried and convicted on charges arising from an armed robbery of a federally insured bank. The only significant evidence linking him to the crime was the identification testimony of two witnesses, a bank teller and a salesman who was in the bank during the robbery. 2 Respondent offered an alibi but, as the Court of Appeals recognized, 501 F.2d, at 150, his strongest [****6]  defense centered around attempts to discredit these eyewitnesses. Defense efforts to impeach them gave rise to the events that led to this decision.

In  [**2165]  the course of preparing respondent's defense, an investigator for the defense interviewed both witnesses and preserved the essence of those conversations in a written report. When the witnesses testified for the prosecution, respondent's counsel relied on the report in conducting their cross-examination. Counsel asked the bank  [*228]  teller whether he recalled having told the investigator that he had seen only the back of the man he identified as respondent. The witness replied that he did not remember making such a statement. He was allowed, despite defense counsel's initial objection, to refresh his recollection by referring [****7]  to a portion of the investigator's report. The prosecutor also was allowed to see briefly the relevant portion of the report. 3 The witness thereafter testified that although the report indicated that he told the investigator he had seen only respondent's back, he in fact had seen more than that and continued to insist that respondent was the bank robber.

 The other witness acknowledged on cross-examination that he too had spoken to the defense investigator. Respondent's counsel twice inquired whether he told the investigator  [***148]  that "all blacks looked alike" to him, and in each instance the witness denied having made such a statement. The prosecution again sought inspection of the relevant portion of the investigator's report, and [****8]  respondent's counsel again objected. The court declined to order disclosure at that time, but ruled that it would be required if the investigator testified as to the witnesses' alleged statements from the witness stand. 4 The  [*229]  court further advised that it would examine the investigator's report in camera  and would excise all reference to matters not relevant to the precise statements at issue.

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422 U.S. 225 *; 95 S. Ct. 2160 **; 45 L. Ed. 2d 141 ***; 1975 U.S. LEXIS 80 ****; 20 Fed. R. Serv. 2d (Callaghan) 547

UNITED STATES v. NOBLES

Prior History:  [****1]  CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Disposition: The court reversed the decision of the court of appeals.

CORE TERMS

disclosure, discovery, investigator, work-product, witnesses, preparation, impeachment, pretrial discovery, evidentiary, witness statement, investigator's report, cases, evidentiary matter, cross-examination, testifies, prior statement, work product, interviews, privileged, pretrial, courts, the Rule, presentation, propose an amendment, adversarial system, relevant portion, circumstances, inspection, questions, parties

Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Procedural Due Process, Self-Incrimination Privilege, Evidence, Privileges, Self-Incrimination Privilege, Scope, Transportation Law, Private Vehicles, Traffic Regulation, One Way Streets, General Overview, Criminal Law & Procedure, Trials, Jencks Act, Appellate Review & Judicial Discretion, Relevance, Preservation of Relevant Evidence, Exclusion & Preservation by Prosecutors, Judicial Discretion, Standards of Review, Harmless & Invited Error, Civil Procedure, Privileged Communications, Work Product Doctrine, Attorney-Client Privilege, Waiver of Protections