DENNIS V. UNITED STATES, 384 U. S. 855 (1966)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Dennis v. United States, 384 U.S. 855 (1966)

Dennis v. United States

No. 502

Argued April 20, 1966

Decided June 20, 1966

384 U.S. 855


Petitioners were indicted in 1956 under 18 U.S.C. § 371 for conspiring fraudulently to obtain the services of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on behalf of the union of which they were officers or members by filing false affidavits in purported satisfaction of the requirements of § 9(h) of the National Labor Relations Act, as amended. Section 9(h), later repealed, provided that a union could not secure NLRB services unless it had filed with the NLRB so-called non-Communist affidavits of each union officer. The Government alleged that, pursuant to a conspiracy, four of the petitioners, union officials who purported to resign from the Communist Party but in reality retained their Party affiliations, filed the required affidavits during 1949-1955, enabling the union to use the NLRB. Petitioners were convicted, but the Court of Appeals, while sustaining the indictment, reversed on the ground that prejudicial hearsay evidence had been admitted. On retrial, petitioners were again convicted, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Certiorari was granted, limited to the following questions: whether the indictment stated the offense of conspiracy to defraud the United States; whether § 9(h) is constitutional; and whether the trial court erred in denying petitioners' motion for production to the defense of grand jury testimony of prosecution witnesses, or alternatively, for in camera inspection of the grand jury testimony.


1. The indictment properly charged a conspiracy to defraud the United States under 18 U.S.C. § 371. Pp. 384 U. S. 859-864.

(a) The indictment charged concert of action and specified the culpable role of each petitioner. P. 384 U. S. 860.

(b) The language of § 371 reaches any conspiracy to impair, obstruct or defeat the functioning of a government agency. P. 384 U. S. 861.

(c) Congress regarded the filing of truthful affidavits, not the mere filing of affidavits, as essential to the privilege of using NLRB services. P. 384 U. S. 862.

Page 384 U. S. 856

(d) Although the statutory offense of filing a false statement was part of the conspiracy alleged against petitioners, the entire course of petitioners' alleged conduct constituted a conspiracy to defraud the United States. Bridges v. United States, 346 U. S. 209, distinguished. Pp. 384 U. S. 862-863.

2. The claim of unconstitutionality of the statute will not be heard at the behest of the petitioners who have been indicted for conspiracy by means of falsehood and deceit to circumvent the law which they here seek to challenge. Kay v. United States, 303 U. S. 1. Pp. 384 U. S. 864-867.

3. Petitioners were entitled to examine the grand jury minutes relating to trial testimony of the prosecution witnesses, and to do so while the witnesses were available for cross-examination. Pp. 384 U. S. 868-875.

(a) In cases of "particularized need" defense counsel may have access to relevant portions of grand jury testimony of a trial witness. Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. v. United States, 360 U. S. 395. P. 384 U. S. 870.

(b) Petitioners have made a substantial showing of "particularized need," and the Government concedes that the importance of preserving secrecy of the grand jury minutes here is minimal. Pp. 384 U. S. 871-874.

(c) While the practice of in camera inspection of the grand jury minutes by the trial judge, followed by production to defense counsel if the judge finds inconsistencies, may be useful in enabling the judge to rule on a motion for production of grand jury testimony, it is not sufficient to protect a defendant's rights where he has demonstrated a "particularized need." P. 384 U. S. 874.

(d) The determination of what may be useful to the defense can effectively be made only by counsel. The trial judge's function in this respect is limited to deciding whether a case has been made for production and to supervise the process. P. 384 U. S. 875.

346 F.2d 10, reversed and remanded.

Page 384 U. S. 857

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