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U.S. Supreme Court

Mesarosh v. United States, 352 U.S. 1 (1956)

Mesarosh v. United States

No. 20

Argued and decided October 10, 1956

Opinions delivered November 5, 1956

352 U.S. 1


In a Federal District Court, petitioners were convicted of conspiring to violate the Smith Act by advocating the overthrow of the Government of the United States by force and violence. The Court of Appeals affirmed. While a review was pending in this Court, the Solicitor General moved that the case be remanded to the District Court for a determination as to the credibility of the testimony of one of the government witnesses at the trial. He stated that the Government believes that the testimony of this witness at the trial "was entirely truthful and credible," but that, on the basis of information in its possession, the Government now has serious reason to doubt the truthfulness of testimony given by the same witness in other proceedings. Parts of the testimony of this witness in other proceedings were positively established as untrue, and the Solicitor General stated on the argument that he believed other parts to be untrue. Petitioners moved that the case be remanded to the District Court for a new trial.

Held: solely on the basis of the Government's representations in its written motion and the statements of the Solicitor General during the argument on the motions, and without reaching any other issue, the Government's motion is denied, the judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded to the District Court with instructions to grant petitioners a new trial. Pp. 352 U. S. 3-14.

Page 352 U. S. 2

1. The witness's credibility has been wholly discredited by the disclosures of the Solicitor General; the dignity of the United States Government will not permit the conviction of any person on tainted testimony; this conviction is tainted, and justice requires that petitioners be accorded a new trial. Pp. 352 U. S. 4-9.

2. The situation presented by the Government's motion in this case is entirely different from that presented by a motion for a new trial initiated by the defense, under Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, presenting untruthful statements by a government witness subsequent to the trial as newly discovered evidence affecting his credibility at the trial. P. 352 U. S. 9.

3. In this case, it cannot be determined conclusively by any court that the testimony of this discredited witness before a jury was insignificant in the general case against petitioners; it has tainted the trial as to all petitioners. Pp. 352 U. S. 10-11.

4. In this criminal case, where the finder of fact was a jury, the District Judge is not the proper agency to determine that there was sufficient other evidence to sustain a conviction; only the jury can determine what it would do on a different body of evidence. Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board, 351 U. S. 115, distinguished. Pp. 352 U. S. 11-13.

5. There is no factual issue upon which the District Court could make an unassailable finding that this witness's other falsehoods were differentiated from his testimony herein. P. 352 U. S. 13.

6. This Court has supervisory jurisdiction over the proceedings of the federal courts. P. 352 U. S. 14.

223 F.2d 449 reversed and remanded to the District Court.

Page 352 U. S. 3

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