Law School Case Brief
United States v. Nobles - 422 U.S. 225, 95 S. Ct. 2160 (1975)
The privilege against compulsory self-incrimination of U.S. Const. amend. V is an intimate and personal one, which protects a private inner sanctum of individual feeling and thought and proscribes state intrusion to extract self-condemnation. The privilege is a personal privilege: it adheres basically to the person, not to information that may incriminate him.
During Defendant Robert Nobles’ federal criminal trial, which resulted in a conviction, 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. When the investigator was called as a witness, the District Court stated that a copy of the investigator's report, inspected and edited by the court in camera so as to excise references to matters not relevant to such statements, would have to be submitted to the prosecution for inspection at the completion of the investigator's testimony. When defense counsel said he did not intend to produce the report, the court ruled that the investigator could not testify about his interviews with the witnesses. The Court of Appeals, considering such ruling to be reversible error, held that both the Fifth Amendment and Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 16 prohibited the disclosure condition imposed.
Did the Court of Appeals err in holding that federal trial court may not compel the defense in a criminal trial to reveal the relevant portions of a defense investigator's report for the prosecution's use in cross-examining him.
The United States Supreme Court held that disclosure of the relevant portions of the defense investigator's report did not violate U.S. Const. amend. V because the content of the report was statements of third parties and not Nobles’ personal communications. Thus, requiring their production would not compel Nobles to be a witness against himself. The court also held that Fed. R. Crim. P. 16 did not constrain a district court's power to condition impeachment testimony of the witness on the production of relevant portions of his report, and that the work-product doctrine did not exempt the report from disclosure because its protection was waived by calling the investigator as a witness.
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