Constitutional Law – Due Process and Right of Confrontation- Jencks Act

The Jencks Act like the rule it purportedly reaffirmed, was designed to insure “justice.” Although the stated purpose of the act was to preserve the rights of any defendant under due process of law, the question remains unresolved whether, in articulating the rule in terms of “justice,” the Court in Jencks v. United States incorporated it into the requirements of due process. To be sure, the underlying intent of both the Court and Congress is unclear, but of far more concern than the intent is whether the Jencks Act, in fact, violates the constitutional mandates of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, even if the Jencks case itself was not based on constitutional grounds.

The Court in Jencks clarified four procedural matters dealing with a defendant’s right to inspect extra-judicial statements made by government witnesses to government agents: (1) defendant is not required to establish a foundation of inconsistency in order to inspect prior statements of witnesses; (2) whereas inspection of prior statements had formerly rested in the trial court’s discretion, the Jencks decision indicates that defendant is entitled to inspect them as a matter of right; (3) the Court specifically disapproved of the procedure whereby the requested documents are submitted to the trial judge for his determination of relevancy and materiality; (4) the Court ruled that a refusal by the government to comply with an order for production must result in a dismissal. As to (1) and (2), the act embodies the Court’s holding. With respect to (3) and (4), the act appears to limit the holding; this will be discussed later in this comment.