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Law School Case Brief

Bank of Nova Scotia v. United States - 487 U.S. 250, 108 S. Ct. 2369 (1988)

Rule:

Dismissal of the indictment is appropriate only if it is established that the violation substantially influenced the grand jury's decision to indict, or if there is grave doubt that the decision to indict was free from the substantial influence of such violations.

Facts:

In 1982, after a 20-month investigation conducted before two successive grand juries, eight defendants, including petitioners William A. Kilpatrick, Declan J. O'Donnell, Sheila C. Lerner, and The Bank of Nova Scotia, were indicted on 27 counts for conspiracy and fraud. The District Court dismissed the indictment against petitioners and others on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct and irregularities in the grand jury proceedings, finding that dismissal was proper due to violations of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6 and under the "totality of the circumstances," including "numerous" violations of Rules 6(d) and (e); violations of 18 U. S. C. §§ 6002 and 6003 and of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Federal Constitution; and the prosecution's knowing presentation of misinformation to the grand jury and mistreatment of witnesses. In an apparent alternative holding, the District Court also ruled that dismissal, pursuant to its supervisory authority, was necessary in order to deter future conduct of this sort. The Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed, ruling that petitioners were not prejudiced by the Government's conduct, and that absent prejudice the District Court lacked the authority to invoke its supervisory power to dismiss the indictment. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari review.

Issue:

Absent prejudice to the petitioners, did the District Court lack the authority to invoke its supervisory power to dismiss the indictment?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court, in reviewing the grand jury proceedings, found that any misconduct or irregularities did not substantially influence the grand jury's decision to indict. Several of the government's acts were actually undertaken following the indictments, thereby having no effect on the grand jury. Other acts, while technically in violation of Fed. R. Crim. P. 6, were harmless. On these findings, the Court concluded that the district court erred in invoking its supervisory power to dismiss indictments for prosecutorial misconduct in a grand jury investigation, where the misconduct did not prejudice the defendants. The Court held that Fed. R. Crim. P. 52(a) required a harmless-error inquiry; if the error was not harmful, a federal court had no authority to invoke its supervisory power to circumvent the rule. Therefore, the court of appeals did not err in reversing the order of the district court.

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