Roviaro v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Greater Grand Crossing

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

CITATION: 353 US 53 (1957)
ARGUED: Dec 11, 1956
DECIDED: Mar 25, 1957

Facts of the case

On August 12, 1954, agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics ("FBN") and the Chicago Police Department met twice with Albert Roviaro near the intersection of 75th Street and Prairie Avenue in Chicago. According to Agent Norris Durham of the FBN, after the second meeting, Detective Byson of the Chicago police climbed into the trunk of a Cadillac sedan owned and driven by "John Doe," an informant for the government. The trunk was propped open slightly to preserve Byson's line of sight. John Doe drove the car to 74th Street and St. Lawrence Avenue, where Alberto Roviaro got out of a Pontiac sedan. Roviaro entered the Cadillac sedan and took a seat next to the driver, John Doe.

Durham followed the Cadillac, which took a circuitous rote to Champlain Avenue and 74th Street. He observed Roviaro leave the Cadillac and walk to a nearby tree, where he picked up a small package. Byson confirmed this from his vantage point in the Cadillac's trunk. Roviaro then walked to the car's open right front door and motioned as if he was leaving the package inside. A chemist working for the United States later identified the package's contents as heroin.

The government charged Roviaro with trafficking heroin, in violation of the Narcotic Drugs Import and Export Act. He was convicted, and the district court denied his motion for a new trial. The U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, affirmed the ruling. Judge Walter Lindley, writing for a unanimous court, held that because John Doe was not a participant in Roviaro's actual possession of heroin, Roviaro is not entitled to full disclosure of his identity.


In a prosecution for trafficking heroin, may the government conceal informant John Doe's identity if he helped to set up the sale of heroin and was present during the sale?

Media for Roviaro v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 11, 1956 (Part 1) in Roviaro v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 11, 1956 (Part 2) in Roviaro v. United States

Earl Warren:

You may continue, Mr. Walsh.

Maurice J. Walsh:

If the Court please -- no rebuttal my time is short.

There's one other point that I would like to discuss orally and that is the refusal to permit the examination by the defendant or to submit to the -- the defendant on the trial certain additional reports by the witness Durham, Agent Durham.

And that arose in this fashion, Durham testified as you will recall that he had recovered this package which turned out to be narcotics from the seat of the informer's automobile or from the floor of the informer's automobile.

When the physical evidence was introduced, it was enclosed in an envelope which became Exhibit 6 and appears at an inscription which appeared on that, appears in the record at page 131.

That document contradicts Mr. Durham's testimony and says that the matter when it comes to the words, were obtained -- how obtained, found by Officer James L.Bryson, that's the name of man who was in the trunk of the automobile.

Where obtained, 74th and St.Lawrence Avenue, Chicago, Illinois and that refers to the material.

Now, this was called to Durham's attention and he was asked if that was not inconsistent with his testimony.

He admitted it was and said that it must be a mistake by Agent Fields who filled out the envelope.

Agent Fields on cross-examination when interrogated about this matter said that he had been given that information, the question was, “Who told you that this material enclosed in this envelope was found by Officer James Bryson at 74th and St.Lawrence?”

“I think agent Durham gave me the information at that time, later the same day on August 13th.”

And then he said that there was other information reported to him that he put on it.

Now, the exhibit also bears, according to the testimony of both after it was filled up, the initials of Durham and that was after these inscriptions as to how it was recovered were on the envelope.

The prosecutor then asked Fields in redirect whether this was the official report.

The agent said no, it was a -- it was an evidence cover.

I then asked if there were additional reports, written reports, by Mr. Durham concerning this transaction.

And Fields said yes.

I asked him if they were consistent with his testimony, he said he did not know.

I asked the Government for production.

The -- and asked the Court to compel it, the Court -- well, the prosecutor claimed no privilege for this -- for this report, for these additional reports covering this transaction but said that he didn't have them in court, he couldn't provide them until the next day at first.

The Court said this trial will end tonight, we'll finish it today.

The -- we then had some discussion of it, I urged the Gordon, the decision of this Court in the Gordon case where, what I conceive to be, a very similar situation arose and the Court thereupon denied production or inspection of the -- the additional reports of Mr. Durham covering this transaction.

My thought was in -- in seeking those was to find out whether his additional written matters, whether the other extra-judicial written statements by him were consistent with his testimony.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Where they can expose to have been contemporaneous with the events?

Maurice J. Walsh:

Very close to it, the written reports of agents --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

In recording really the details as you understood it or --

Maurice J. Walsh:

Recording the details of the transaction which might disclose whether he found this envelope as he testified or whether Bryson found it as Fields said Durham told him and Fields recorded.

And Fields, bear in mind, is a government agent (Voice Overlap) --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Now, the judge denied that application.

Did he state a ground?