RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: U.S. District Court Southern District of California
DOCKET NO.: 451
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
CITATION: 360 US 367 (1959)
ARGUED: Apr 28, 1959
DECIDED: Jun 22, 1959
Facts of the case
Media for Rosenberg v. United States
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 28, 1959 in Rosenberg v. United States
Number 451, Joel Rosenberg, Petitioner, versus United States of America.
Edward M. Dangel:
Mr. Chief Justice --
Edward M. Dangel:
-- may it please the Court.
The petitioner here was tried upon an indictment that contained two counts, first count, for having transported in interstate commerce a check that was procured by fraud.
The second count, for a conspiracy between himself, one Meierdiercks, and an unknown person called Mr. Rice in the indictment.
He was found guilty after two trials.
The first trial was reversed by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
The first trial was before the Jencks decision and before the so-called Jencks Act.
The reversal by the Court of Appeals was based upon the fact that he was not given FBI material or statements reports, and was not provided with the grand jury minutes concerning two principal witnesses, one Meierdiercks and one Ms. Vossler, Ms. Vossler being the victim of the fraud.
The Jencks Act had not been passed.
Then, he was tried again before the same judge after the Jencks Act was passed.
And during the trial, he was deprived of the material of which we now complain, FBI reports and some statements.
And the Court of -- and the judge, I'll go into this much more fully later, claimed he was acting both under the Jencks Act and under the Jencks decision.
The Court of Appeals confirmed the conviction and they acted under the Jencks Act and the Jencks decision, although they don't say so.
The District Attorney or United States Attorney adheres strictly in his contentions to the Jencks Act.
This Court granted certiorari on the grounds, first, whether the rule on the Jencks case was a rule of mere procedure or did it involve the defendant's constitutional rights.
Then, again, whether or not a clear violation of the rule was harmless error, whether the conceded error of the trial court and the Court of Appeals found that there was -- there was error, error in withholding from counsel prior statements of a principal government witness could be excused by the Court of Appeals because it found that the defense was not hampered in cross-examination of those witnesses concerning material that's in a sealed envelope that's never been seen by the petitioner.
And, another part of the certiorari is that it is proper for a Court of Appeals to determine what use defense counsel might have made of the statements erroneously withheld.
The -- the case, when it came up for trial again and prior thereto, the defendant made two motions.
The third one, which is not too important for a continuance, the two motions were that he be allowed to inspect before trial the statements of Meierdiercks, who was the principal witness and Vossler, who was also a principal witness and who the judge knew, all the judges knew, had to be material witnesses or the Government had no case.
It was first presented to the assignment judge whose ruling was that, because of the Jencks Act, he could not allow the motions at that time.
The preposition being stated to him that it would delay the trial and interrupt the trial, and so forth, and a -- the judge said no.
He was bound to wait until the witness testified, although he knew and everybody else knew that those witnesses were bound to testify.
However, he put a loophole in his ruling to this extent.
He said “you may renew this request again to the trial judge.”
And, the request was renewed to the trial judge who, as I say, was the same judge who tried the case first, and his remarks in the record show that he knows just what the Government needs because he said the Government cannot prove this case, unless Mr. Meierdiercks testifies.
They might leave out Ms. Vossler but I don't see how they could do it.
However, he denied the motion again not as a matter of discretion, as I read the record, but as a matter that he was bound to wait until the witness testified.
Now, at the trial, Mr. Meierdiercks was not only the main witness, but the only witness who implicates the defendant.