United States v. Skeens, No. 23599.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
Writing for the CourtBAZELON, (dissenting
Citation449 F.2d 1066
Decision Date14 June 1971
Docket NumberNo. 23599.
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Appellant v. James T. SKEENS.

449 F.2d 1066 (1971)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellant
v.
James T. SKEENS.

No. 23599.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.

Argued January 27, 1971.

Decided June 14, 1971.


449 F.2d 1067

Mr. Broughton M. Earnest, Asst. U. S. Atty., with whom Messrs. Thomas A. Flannery, U. S. Atty., John A. Terry and Charles R. Work, Asst. U. S. Attys., were on the brief, for appellant.

Mr. Allan M. Palmer, Washington, D. C. (appointed by this Court), for appellee.

Before BAZELON, Chief Judge, TAMM, Circuit Judge, and GIGNOUX,* United States District Judge for the District of Maine.

GIGNOUX, District Judge:

This appeal presents the single question of whether the trial judge erred in setting aside a jury verdict of guilty and dismissing an indictment because of the refusal of the government to disclose the identity of an informant. For the reasons to be stated, we hold that, under the circumstances of this case, this was error.

I.

Appellee was indicted on August 10, 1967, along with a co-defendant, Francis Reichert, on one count of robbery (D.C. Code § 22-2901 (1967)) and two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon (D.C.Code § 22-502 (1967)). The charges arose out of the armed robbery of an employee of Duke Zeibert's Restaurant on May 15, 1967, in which two robbers netted approximately $14,000 in cash and checks which was being carried to a nearby bank for deposit.

After Reichert's case was severed, appellee came to trial on February 17, 1969. The government presented two witnesses. The first was the victim of the robbery, Nathaniel Swindler, who testified that at about 10:30 a. m. on May 15, 1967, he was robbed by two men in an alley behind Duke Zeibert's Restaurant. Swindler made an in-court identification of appellee as one of the two robbers, and stated that appellee was carrying a pistol and the other man was carrying a sawed-off shotgun. The government's second witness was the office manager at the restaurant, who confirmed that Swindler had about $14,000 in cash and checks to be delivered to the bank at the time he was robbed.

At the conclusion of the government's case, appellee's counsel requested and obtained a Brady1 hearing, out of the presence of the jury, to determine what evidence favorable to the defense the police might have. At this hearing, Sergeant Louis Blancato of the Metropolitan Police, one of the investigating officers, revealed that approximately three weeks after appellee's arrest, he had been contacted by a "very reliable" informant, who had given him the following information:

1. Appellee and one John Scott had hired a man named Red Pope, a parolee, to kill the government\'s witness, Swindler.
449 F.2d 1068
2. The shotgun used in the robbery had been stolen from a house in Prince George\'s County, Maryland.
3. Reichert was the man who had carried the shotgun during the robbery.
4. The shotgun was then at 1030 13th Street, N.W., where Reichert\'s girl friend, Kay Travett McCurry, lived.
5. The house on 13th Street was actually the residence of one John Travett, with whom Reichert\'s girl friend was then living.

Blancato further testified that upon receiving the foregoing information, he and other police officers went to the house on 13th Street, talked to the girl friend, and searched the premises for the shotgun. Although the police did not find the shotgun, they did seize a shotgun shell. The officers then located and arrested Red Pope, who admitted knowing appellee, Reichert and John Scott, but did not admit being hired to kill Swindler.2 Two days after the arrest of Red Pope, Blancato received a second call from the informant, who stated that another person named Lewis had been hired to kill Swindler.

Upon learning of the existence of the informant, appellee's counsel asked for his name, but Blancato refused to disclose it on the ground that the informant might be killed. After hearing argument, the trial judge indicated that the defense had a right to cross-examine the informant. A luncheon recess followed, during which Blancato telephoned the informant, who stated that he feared for his life and refused even to meet with the judge in camera.3 The trial court then indicated that unless the government disclosed the informant's identity, it would dismiss the indictment. The court reserved its decision until the following day in order to permit the government to determine its course of action.

On the following day, February 20, the government asked for a stay in order to seek a writ of mandamus or prohibition in this Court to preclude the trial court from dismissing the case. At the request of appellee's counsel, however, the trial court permitted the trial to proceed with the understanding that if the government's petition for mandamus were denied, the indictment would be dismissed. The defense called three witnesses in an attempt to establish an alibi defense. A parole officer testified that appellee was at 300 Indiana Avenue, N. W. (across from the United States Courthouse), at 11 a. m. on the day of the robbery. Appellee's former defense attorney testified that appellee and his wife were in his office at 601 Indiana Avenue, N.W. (around the corner from the United States Courthouse), between 11:10 and 11:20 a. m. on the day of the robbery. And another attorney testified that he saw appellee's wife in the United States Courthouse at about 10:35 a. m. that morning. The defense then rested, and the government introduced in rebuttal a stipulation that the driving time at 10:30 a. m. between the scene of the crime and 300 Indiana Avenue was about nine to ten minutes. After final arguments by the prosecution and the defense, this Court on February 24 acted upon the government's petition for mandamus and ordered the case submitted to the jury, without prejudice to any post-trial motions. On February 25 the trial court instructed the jury and on February 26 the jury returned a verdict of guilty on the robbery count and one count of assault with a dangerous weapon,

449 F.2d 1069
acquitting appellee on the remaining count

Immediately following the return of the jury's verdict, appellee sought a judgment n. o. v. on the ground that the informant had not been identified. This motion was assigned for argument on February 28, but on February 28 the government filed in this Court a supplemental petition for a writ of mandamus or prohibition, and this Court ordered a stay of all proceedings then pending in the lower court. Despite this Court's stay, the trial court on February 28 set aside the verdict and sua sponte ordered a new trial, directing the government to produce the informant. On June 27 this Court, acting upon the government's February 28 supplemental petition for mandamus, held that the trial judge's action in setting aside the verdict and ordering a new trial was a nullity. On the merits of the government's petition, this Court held that the case did not warrant the issuance of the writ, and therefore the trial judge should proceed to dispose of appellee's post-verdict motion on its merits. United States v. Green, 134 U.S.App.D.C. 278, 414 F.2d 1174 (1969). After hearing further argument, the trial court on August 7, 1969, entered an order setting aside the jury verdict and dismissing the indictment because of the failure of the government to produce its informant. It is from this order that the government now appeals. 18 U.S.C. § 3731 (1964); D.C.Code § 23-105(a) (Supp. III 1970).

II.

Appellee contends that he was entitled to the name of the government's informant under the rule announced by the Supreme Court in Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53, 77 S.Ct. 623, 1 L.Ed.2d 639 (1957). Roviaro had been tried and convicted upon a two-count indictment charging the sale and transportation of narcotics. The informer had been an active participant in the crime. He "had taken a material part in bringing about the possession of certain drugs by the accused, had been present with the accused at the occurrence of the alleged crime, and might be a material witness as to whether the accused knowingly transported the drugs as charged." 353 U.S. at 55, 77 S.Ct. at 625. The court required disclosure of the informant, pointing out that he "was the sole participant, other than the accused, in the transaction charged." 353 U.S. at 64, 77 S.Ct. at 630. The Court held that where, in the trial of a federal criminal case,

the disclosure of an informer\'s identity * * * is relevant and helpful to the defense of an accused, or is essential to a fair determination of a cause, the privilege must give way. In these situations the trial court may require disclosure and, if the Government withholds the information, dismiss the action.
* * * * * *
We believe that no fixed rule with respect to disclosure is justifiable. The problem is one that calls for balancing the public interest in protecting the flow of information against the individual\'s right to prepare his defense. Whether a proper balance renders nondisclosure erroneous must depend on the particular circumstances of each case, taking into consideration the crime charged, the possible defenses, the possible significance of the informer\'s testimony, and other relevant factors. 353 U.S. at 60-61, 62, 77 S.Ct. at 628-629. (Footnotes omitted.) (Emphasis supplied.)

It is true that in Roviaro the Court required disclosure of the informant's identity. In the particular circumstances presented by that case, where the informant was an active participant in the crime of which Roviaro was accused, the Court concluded that the public interest in protecting the flow of information must yield to the right of the accused to prepare his defense. The Court refrained, however, from imposing any absolute rule requiring disclosure in all cases. Indeed, when the Supreme Court next considered the disclosure problem in Rugendorf v. United States, 376 U.S. 528, 84 S.Ct. 825, 11 L.Ed.2d 887 (1964),

449 F.2d 1070
it distinguished Roviaro...

To continue reading

Request your trial
64 practice notes
  • United States v. Fatico, No. 76-CR-81.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • 1 december 1977
    ...incidents have persisted; they present a real and continuing problem. See, e. g., United States v. Skeens, 145 U.S.App.D.C. 404, 406, 449 F.2d 1066, 1068 (1971). United States v. Long, 533 F.2d 505, 508 (9th Cir. 1976). To require revelation of informers' names is to choke off this vital so......
  • United States v. Holland, Criminal Action No. 13–cr–33RC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 30 mei 2014
    ...who bears the “heavy burden ... to establish that the identity of an informant is necessary to his defense.” United States v. Skeens, 449 F.2d 1066, 1070 (D.C.Cir.1971). In assessing whether disclosure is warranted, “the Court must take into consideration the particular circumstances of the......
  • Hawkins v. Robinson, Civ. No. 15700.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • 21 november 1973
    ...(2d Cir. 1968), and, as the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia noted in United States v. Skeens, 145 U.S. App.D.C. 404, 449 F.2d 1066, 1071 (1971), a similar rule has consistently been followed in other "In striking this balance as we do today, we find ourselves in accord with ev......
  • Coleman v. Burnett, No. 71-1114.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • 14 maart 1973
    ...Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53, 62, 77 S.Ct. 623, 1 L.Ed.2d 639 (1957); United States v. Skeens, 145 U.S.App.D.C. 404, 407-408, 449 F.2d 1066, 1069-1071 120 Compare Robinson v. United States, 148 U.S.App.D.C. 58, 61-62, 459 F.2d 847, 850-851 (1972); Ross v. United States, 121 U.S.App......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
64 cases
  • United States v. Fatico, No. 76-CR-81.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • 1 december 1977
    ...incidents have persisted; they present a real and continuing problem. See, e. g., United States v. Skeens, 145 U.S.App.D.C. 404, 406, 449 F.2d 1066, 1068 (1971). United States v. Long, 533 F.2d 505, 508 (9th Cir. 1976). To require revelation of informers' names is to choke off this vital so......
  • United States v. Holland, Criminal Action No. 13–cr–33RC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 30 mei 2014
    ...who bears the “heavy burden ... to establish that the identity of an informant is necessary to his defense.” United States v. Skeens, 449 F.2d 1066, 1070 (D.C.Cir.1971). In assessing whether disclosure is warranted, “the Court must take into consideration the particular circumstances of the......
  • Hawkins v. Robinson, Civ. No. 15700.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • 21 november 1973
    ...(2d Cir. 1968), and, as the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia noted in United States v. Skeens, 145 U.S. App.D.C. 404, 449 F.2d 1066, 1071 (1971), a similar rule has consistently been followed in other "In striking this balance as we do today, we find ourselves in accord wi......
  • Coleman v. Burnett, No. 71-1114.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • 14 maart 1973
    ...Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53, 62, 77 S.Ct. 623, 1 L.Ed.2d 639 (1957); United States v. Skeens, 145 U.S.App.D.C. 404, 407-408, 449 F.2d 1066, 1069-1071 120 Compare Robinson v. United States, 148 U.S.App.D.C. 58, 61-62, 459 F.2d 847, 850-851 (1972); Ross v. United States, 121 U.S.App......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT