United States v. Williams

PETITIONER:United States
LOCATION:Circuit Court of Vermilion County

DOCKET NO.: 90-1972
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 504 US 36 (1992)
ARGUED: Jan 22, 1992
DECIDED: May 04, 1992

James C. Lang – on behalf of the Respondent
Kenneth W. Starr – on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Williams

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 22, 1992 in United States v. Williams

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 04, 1992 in United States v. Williams

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion and judgment in United States against Williams will be announced by Justice Scalia.

Antonin Scalia:

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the Tenth Circuit.

Respondent John Williams, Jr. was indicted by a federal grand jury on seven counts of knowingly making a false statement or report in violation of 18 United States Code Section 1014.

On Williams’ motion the District Court ordered the indictment dismissed without prejudice because the government had failed to fulfill its obligation under recent Tenth Circuit precedent to present substantial exculpatory evidence that was in its possession to the grand jury.

Following that Tenth Circuit precedent, the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal.

In an opinion filed today, we reverse the judgment and remand the cause for further proceedings.

A District Court may not dismiss an otherwise valid indictment because the government failed to disclose to the grand jury exculpatory evidence in its possession.

The Tenth Circuit’s disclosure rule is not supported by the court’s inherent supervisory power to formulate procedural rules.

This Court’s case is invoking that power yield with the court’s control over their own procedures whereas, the grand jury is an institution separate from the courts over whose proceedings the courts do not preside.

Any power Federal Courts may have to fashion on their own initiative, rules of grand jury procedure is very limited and certainly would not permit the reshaping of the grand jury institution that would be the consequence of the Tenth Circuit’s rules here.

Contrary to Williams’ suggestion, we believe that the Court of Appeals’ rule would neither preserve nor enhance the traditional functioning of the grand jury that the common law of the Fifth Amendment demands.

Requiring the prosecutor to present exculpatory as well as incriminating evidence would alter the grand jury’s historical role transforming it from an accusatory body that sits to assess whether there is adequate basis for bringing a criminal charge into an adjudicatory body that sits to determine guilt or innocence.

Motions to quash indictments because of insufficiency of the evidence relied upon by the grand jury have never been allowed.

It would make little sense to abstain from reviewing the evidentiary support for the grand jury’s judgment while scrutinizing the sufficiency of the prosecutor’s presentation.

Congress is assuredly free to prescribe a rule requiring the prosecutor to present exculpatory evidence to the grand jury but we conclude that the Federal Courts have no authority to prescribe such a duty pursuant to their inherent supervisory authority over their own proceedings.

Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Blackmun and Justice O’Connor have joined, and in which Justice Thomas has joined in part.