360 U.S. 395 (1959), 489, Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 489
Citation:360 U.S. 395, 79 S.Ct. 1237, 3 L.Ed.2d 1323
Party Name:Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. v. United States
Case Date:June 22, 1959
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 395

360 U.S. 395 (1959)

79 S.Ct. 1237, 3 L.Ed.2d 1323

Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co.


United States

No. 489

United States Supreme Court

June 22, 1959

Argued April 28, 1959




Petitioners were convicted in a Federal District Court of conspiring to fix prices of plain plate glass mirrors in violation of §1 of the Sherman Act. After a key government witness had testified at their trial and had admitted that he had testified on the same general subject matter before the grand jury which indicted petitioners, their counsel moved for production of the grand jury minutes, not attempting to show any particularized need for them, but claiming an absolute right to their production under Jencks v. United States, 353 U.S. 657. This motion was denied by the trial judge.

Held: under Rule 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the question whether the grand jury minutes should be produced was committed to the sound discretion of the trial judge; no abuse of his discretion has been shown, and petitioners' conviction is sustained. Pp. 396-401.

(a) Neither Jencks v. United States, supra, nor 18 U.S.C. § 3500, which superseded its doctrine, has any bearing on this case, since neither of them relates to grand jury minutes. P. 398.

(b) Under Rule 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the question whether grand jury minutes should be disclosed is committed to the sound discretion of the trial judge. Pp. 398-399.

(c) No particularized need for production of the grand jury's minutes having been shown, the trial judge did not err in denying their production. United States v. Procter & Gamble, 356 U.S. 677. Pp. 399-401.

260 F.2d 397 affirmed.

Page 396

CLARK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners stand convicted on a single-count indictment charging a conspiracy under § 1 of the Sherman Act. They contend that the trial judge erred in refusing to permit them to inspect the grand jury minutes covering the testimony before that body of a key government witness at the trial. The Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions, 260 F.2d 397. With reference to the present claim, it held that Rule 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure1 committed the inspection or not of grand jury minutes to the sound discretion of the trial judge,

Page 397

and that, in this instance, no abuse of that discretion had been shown. We granted certiorari limited to the question posed by this ruling. 358 U.S. 917. We conclude that, in the circumstances of this case, the trial court did not err in refusing to make Jonas' grand jury testimony available to petitioners for use in cross-examination.

The indictment returned in the case named as defendants seven corporations, all manufacturers of mirrors, and three of their officers. However, only three of the corporations are petitioners here, along with one individual, J. A. Messer, Sr. The indictment charged a conspiracy to fix the price of plain plate glass mirrors sold in interstate commerce. It is not necessary for our purposes to detail the facts of this long trial, the record of which covers 860 pages. It is sufficient to say that the Government proved its case through 10 witnesses, the last of whom was Jonas. He was President of a large North Carolina mirror manufacturing company, and had a reputation for independence in the industry. Although neither he nor his corporation was indicted, the latter was made a co-conspirator. The evidence indicates that the conspiracy was consummated at two meetings held on successive days during the week of the annual meeting of the Mirror Manufacturers Association in 1954 at Asheville, North Carolina. Jonas, not being a member of the Association, did not attend [79 S.Ct. 1240] the convention. Talk at the convention regarding prices culminated in telephone calls by several representatives of mirror manufacturers to Jonas concerning his attitude on raising prices. On the day following these calls, Jonas and three of the participants in the conspiracy met at an inn away from the convention headquarters and discussed "prices." Within three days thereafter, each of the manufacturers announced an identical price increase, which was approximately 10 percent. Jonas' testimony, of course, was confined to the telephone calls and the meeting at the inn

Page 398

where the understanding was finalized. The Government admits that he was an "important" witness. However, proof of the conspiracy was overwhelming aside from Jonas' testimony. While he was the only witness who characterized the outcome of the meetings as an "agreement" on prices, no witness negatived this conclusion, and the identical price lists that followed the meeting at the inn were little less than proof positive.

After the conclusion of Jonas' testimony, defense counsel interrogated him as to the number of times he appeared and the subject of his testimony before the grand jury. Upon ascertaining that Jonas had testified three times on "the same general subject matter," counsel moved for the delivery of the grand jury minutes. He stated that the petitioners had "a right . . . to inspect the Grand Jury record of the testimony of this witness after he has completed his direct examination" relating to "the same general subject matter" as his trial testimony.2 As authority for "the automatic delivery of Grand Jury transcripts" under such circumstances, counsel cited Jencks v. United States, 353 U.S. 657 (1957). As previously indicated, the motion was denied.

It appears to us clear that Jencks v. United States, supra, is in nowise controlling here. It had nothing to do with grand jury proceedings and its language was not intended to encompass grand jury minutes. Likewise, it is equally clear that Congress intended to exclude those minutes from the operation of the so-called Jencks Act, 71 Stat. 595, 18 U.S.C. (Supp. V, 1958) § 3500.3

Petitioners concede, as they must, that any disclosure of grand jury minutes is covered by Fed.Rules Crim.Proc. 6(e) promulgated by this Court in 1946 after the

Page 399

approval of Congress. In fact, the federal trial courts as well as the Courts of Appeals have been nearly unanimous in regarding disclosure as committed to the discretion of the trial judge.4 Our cases announce the same principle,5 and Rule 6(e) is but declaratory of it.6 As recently as last Term, we characterized cases where grand jury minutes are used "to impeach a witness, to refresh his recollection, to test his credibility, and the like," as instances of "particularized need where the secrecy of the proceedings is lifted discretely and limitedly." United States v. Procter & Gamble, 356 U.S. 677, 683 (1958).

Petitioners argue, however, that the trial judge's discretion under Rule 6(e) must be exercised in accordance with the rationale of Jencks -- namely, upon a showing on cross-examination that a trial witness testified before the grand jury -- and nothing more -- the defense has a "right" to the delivery to it of the witness' grand jury testimony.

This conclusion, however, runs counter to "a long established policy" of secrecy, United States v. Procter & Gamble, supra, 356 U.S. at 681, older than our Nation itself. The reasons therefor are manifold, id., 356 U.S. at 682, and are compelling when viewed in the light of the history and modus operandi of the grand jury. Its establishment in the Constitution "as the sole method for preferring charges in serious criminal cases" indeed "shows the high place it [hold] as an instrument of justice." Costello v. United States, 350 U.S. 359, 362 (1956). Ever since this action

Page 400

by the Fathers, the American grand jury, like that of England,

has convened as a body of laymen, free from technical rules, acting in secret, pledged to indict no one because of prejudice and to free no one because of special favor.

Ibid. Indeed, indictments may be returned on hearsay, or for that matter, even on the knowledge of the grand jurors themselves. Id. at 362-363. To make public any part of its...

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