Costello v. United States Case Brief

Why is the case important?

After being indicted upon the hearsay testimony of three IRS agents, Petitioner sought to have his trial and conviction overturned because the agents had no personal knowledge of the truth of the information upon which they testified.

Facts of the case

Question

Whether a defendant should be required to stand trial and a conviction be sustained where only hearsay evidence was presented to the grand jury upon his indictment.

Answer

While the evidence is admittedly hearsay, it may be used to obtain an indictment, provided non-hearsay evidence can be produced at trial.
Concurrence. Justice Burton concurred, noting that substantial and rationally persuasive evidence was presented to the grand jury, and it was later back up with its counterparts which were exceptions to the hearsay rule.

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.

  • Case Brief: 1956
  • Petitioner: Costello
  • Respondent: United States
  • Decided by: Warren Court

Citation: 350 US 359 (1956)
Argued: Jan 16 – 17, 1956
Decided: Mar 5, 1956