Jencks v. United States

PETITIONER: Clinton D. Jencks
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: The United States District Court for the Western District of Texas

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 353 US 657 (1957)
ARGUED: Oct 17, 1956
DECIDED: Jun 03, 1957
GRANTED: Mar 05, 1956

John T. McTernan - for the appellant
E. B. Elfers - for the appellant
Holvey Williams - for the appellee
Russell B. Wine - for the appellee
Brandon Alvey - for the appellee

Facts of the case

Clinton Jencks, a union leader, was charged with falsely filing an Affidavit of Non-Communist Union Officer with the National Labor Relations Board. Two undercover informants for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) testified against Jencks, and reported that he had been seen at Communist Party events and working with Communist Party members. The evidence provided against Jencks was entirely circumstantial, and the prosecution's evidence rested largely on the testimonies and reports of the undercover informants. Jencks requested the testimony of the informants to review their credibility and admissibility in court. The trial court denied his request without stating the reasons, and Jencks was found guilty on two counts of communist activity and sentenced to five years imprisonment for each offense. Jencks appealed the lower court's decision on the grounds that the informants' reports should have been provided for review to determine their use in the trial and on the grounds that the jury was improperly instructed on the definitions of political party membership. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the decision of the lower court.


Can a defendant request testimonial documents for admissibility in trial if those documents potentially contain classified information and possible disclosure of state secrets?

Media for Jencks v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 17, 1956 (Part 2) in Jencks v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 17, 1956 (Part 1) in Jencks v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 23, Clinton E. Jencks, Petitioner, versus United States of America.

Mr. McTernan.

John T. McTernan:

May it please the Court.

This case arises on a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

That court affirmed a judgment of conviction of filing a false non-Communist affidavit under Section 9 (h) of the amended Labor Act and an order denying a motion for a new trial on grounds of newly discovered evidence.

The crimes of which the petitioner here was convicted was a false denial of membership in the Communist Party and a false denial of affiliation with the Communist Party.

He was sentenced to five years on each count, sentences to run concurrently.

His motion for a new trial was filed sometime after the close of the proceedings in the trial court and the newly discovered evidence consisted of a recantation of his trial testimony by the crucial government witness, one Harvey Matusow.

The motion was denied on the grounds that the trial court disbelieved the recantation.

May I briefly review the evidence because of the bearing that this review has on each of the points we present.

The affidavit in question was dated April 28, 1950, and that of course became the critical date as of which the Government had to prove membership and affiliation on the part of the petitioner.

We choose to divide the evidence between the pre-affidavit evidence and the post-affidavit evidence.

Of the four category, there were approximately seven witnesses.

The earliest of whom, one Carey, placed the petitioner at a so-called Communist meeting in April 1946, some four years prior to the critical date and the last one, Ford, had placed him in a Communist meeting in July or August 1949, some eight or nine months prior to the critical date.

Two witnesses, Ford and Petersen, connected him with the Communist Party a little more closely, Ford had him a member of the State Board for New Mexico as late as May 1949, almost 11 months before the critical date.

Petersen placed him at a Communist Party convention for the Rocky Mountain area in late 1947.

Other than these two, Ford and Petersen, the testimony consisted of -- of placing the petitioner at a so-called Communist meeting or meetings attended only by known Communists over this period of April 1946 to July or August 1949.

The post-affidavit evidence consisted of the testimony of one Terrazas, who testified that in addressing union meetings in 1950, 1951 and 1952, the petitioner urged his brethren to read a newspaper called the Daily People's World which other witnesses identified as a Communist newspaper.

We take the position that that evidence has no probative force on either the issue of affiliation or membership.

We point out that this Court held similar evidence to have no probative force on the issue of affiliation in Bridges against Wixon and we submit that it can have no greater effect on the more serious and formalized relation of membership.

The other post-affidavit evidence consists of the testimony of Matusow.

He related four incidents occurring in late July and early August 1947, in which he had conversations with Jencks, the petitioner here, at a guest ranch in Northern New Mexico.

The most lured and inflammatory of those is the one we identify in our brief, in the summary of the facts as the do-day incident where, according to Matusow at the trial, he and Jencks exchanged information upon what they and fellow Communists were doing in the struggle for peace and the do-day described by Matusow consisted of putting up posters and signs around the town advocating the alleged Communist position.

And in addition in this incident, Matusow, and this I what I referred to as the luring part of it, said that Jencks had told him that he and the other Communists and the union were plotting with the Mexican Miners Union for arrangements to conduct a strike which would cut off copper production for Korea.

Now, if the Court please, there are claims by the Government that there is other post-affidavit evidence in this record including, as the Government has presented it, evidence which the trial judge struck out.

Now, without going into the details of that, we simply contest the Government's position and our position is fully set out in our reply brief at pages three to five.

Matusow, we submit, is the crucial witness.

The only post-affidavit witness having any probative force and because he is the only post-affidavit witness having probative force, he is the only witness having probative force because it is our position that under this Court's opinion in Douds, the pre-affidavit evidence standing alone would be insufficient, and I refer to that passage in the Douds opinion to the effect that a person who was once a member of the party or affiliated with the party could sign the affidavit upon terminating his connection.

And we point out again that the last of the pre-affidavit evidence came only to within nine months of the critical date.

Now, I turn first to our point one, the issues surrounding our motion to the trial court for production of statements of two witnesses which were made to the F.B.I. in the course of the witnesses' career as professional informers for that agency.