Costello v. United States

350 U.S. 359, 76 S. Ct. 406 (1956)

 

RULE:

If indictments were to be held open to challenge on the ground that there was inadequate or incompetent evidence before the grand jury, the resulting delay would be great indeed. The result of such a rule would be that before trial on the merits a defendant could always insist on a kind of preliminary trial to determine the competency and adequacy of the evidence before the grand jury. This is not required by the Fifth Amendment. An indictment returned by a legally constituted and unbiased grand jury, like an information drawn by the prosecutor, if valid on its face, is enough to call for trial of the charge on the merits. The Fifth Amendment requires nothing more.

FACTS:

Defendant was indicted and convicted of attempting to evade payment of income tax. At the grand jury hearing, the government offered evidence, including the introduction of several witnesses, designed to show increases in defendant's net worth in an attempt to prove that he had received more income during years in question than reported. As part of the government's testimony, government agents summarized the evidence heard and introduced computations. Defendant moved to dismiss the indictment on the ground that the only evidence before the grand jury was hearsay because the government agents had no firsthand knowledge of the transactions upon which their computations were based. The motion was denied, and defendant was convicted. The judgment was affirmed on appeal.

ISSUE:

May a defendant be required to stand trial and a conviction be sustained where only hearsay evidence was presented to the grand jury which indicted him?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

On petition for writ of certiorari, the United States Supreme Court reviewed the record and concluded that neither the Fifth Amendment nor any other constitutional provision prescribed the kind of evidence upon which grand juries must act. It ruled that if indictments were to be held open to challenge on the ground that there was inadequate or incompetent evidence before the grand jury, the resulting delay would be great indeed. The result of such a rule would be that before trial on the merits a defendant could always insist on a kind of preliminary trial to determine the competency and adequacy of the evidence before the grand jury. An indictment returned by a legally constituted and unbiased grand jury, like an information drawn by the prosecutor, if valid on its face, is enough to call for trial of the charge on the merits.

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