United States v. Nobles,
422 U.S. 225 (1975)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Nobles, 422 U.S. 225 (1975)

United States v. Nobles

No. 74-634

Argued April 23, 1975

Decided June 23, 1975

422 U.S. 225


During respondent's federal criminal trial, which resulted in a conviction, defense counsel sought to impeach the credibility of key prosecution witnesses by testimony of a defense investigator regarding statements previously obtained from the witnesses by the investigator. When the investigator was called as a witness, the District Court stated that a copy of the investigator's report, inspected and edited by the court in camera so as to excise references to matters not relevant to such statements, would have to be submitted to the prosecution for inspection at the completion of the investigator's testimony. When defense counsel said he did not intend to produce the report, the court ruled that the investigator could not testify about his interviews with the witnesses. The Court of Appeals, considering such ruling to be reversible error, held that both the Fifth Amendment and Fed.Rule Crim.Proc. 16 prohibited the disclosure condition imposed.


1. In a proper case, the prosecution, as well as the defense, can invoke the federal judiciary's inherent power to require production of previously recorded witness statements that facilitate full disclosure of all the relevant facts. Here, the investigator's report might provide critical insight into the issues of credibility that the investigator's testimony would raise, and hence was highly relevant to such issues. Pp. 422 U. S. 230-232.

2. The Fifth Amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination, being personal to the defendant, does not extend to the testimony or statements of third parties called as witnesses at trial. In this instance, the fact that the statements of third parties were elicited by a defense investigator on respondent's behalf does not convert them into respondent's personal communications, and requiring their production would in no sense compel respondent to be a witness against himself or extort communications from him. Pp. 422 U. S. 233-234.

3. Rule 16, whose language and history both indicate that it addresses only pretrial discovery, imposes no constraint on the

Page 422 U. S. 226

District Court's power to condition the impeachment testimony of respondent's witness on the production of the relevant portions of his report. The fact that the Rule incorporates the Jencks Act limitation shows no contrary intent, and does not convert the Rule into a general limitation on the trial court's broad discretion as to evidentiary questions at trial. Pp. 422 U. S. 234-236.

4. The qualified privilege derived from the attorney work product doctrine is not available to prevent disclosure of the investigative report, since respondent, by electing to present the investigator as a witness, waived the privilege with respect to matters covered in his testimony. Pp. 422 U. S. 236-240.

5. It was within the District Court's discretion to assure that the jury would hear the investigator's full testimony, rather than a truncated portion favorable to respondent, and the court's ruling, contrary to respondent's contention, did not deprive him of the Sixth Amendment rights to compulsory process and cross-examination. That Amendment does not confer the right to present testimony free from the legitimate demands of the adversarial system, and cannot be invoked as a justification for presenting what might have been a half-truth. Pp. 422 U. S. 240-241.

501 F.2d 146, reversed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, and in parts II, III, and V of which WHITE and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 422 U. S. 242. DOUGLAS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Page 422 U. S. 227

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