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JENCKS v. UNITED STATES - 353 U.S. 657, 77 S. Ct. 1007 (1957)

Rule:

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. 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. 

Facts:

Petitioner was convicted in a Federal District Court of violating 18 U. S. C. § 1001 by filing, under § 9 (h) of the National Labor Relation 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 F. B. I., who stated on cross-examination that they had made regular oral or written reports to the F. B. I. 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 and he was convicted. His conviction was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (226 F2d 540, 553), holding that the defendant was not entitled to production of these reports, since a preliminary foundation of inconsistency between the contents of the reports and the trial testimony of the government witnesses was not laid.

Issue:

Was the defendant entitled to an order directing the government to produce the reports for his inspection?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court reversed. The Supreme Court held that the defendant was entitled to an order directing the government to produce the reports for his inspection, it being sufficient that they contained statements of government witnesses relating to the events and activities to which these witnesses testified at the trial; the practice of producing government documents to the trial judge for his determination of relevancy and materiality, without hearing the accused, was disapproved. It was also held that if the government exercised its privilege to withhold the reports in the public interest, the criminal action must be dismissed, and that it was for the government and not for the trial judge, to determine the question of public interest in that connection.

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