The Jencks Act
The origins of this Act are in a 1957 U.S. Supreme Court case called Jencks v. United States, 353 U.S. 657 (1957). Clinton Jencks, a labor activist and union leader, was charged and convicted of filing a false “Affidavit of Non-Communist Union Officer” with the National Labor Relations Board. Jencks swore in his affidavit that he was not a communist, but the Government alleged that he was. The case against Jencks relied heavily on the testimony of two paid FBI informants. During the course of his trial, the defense moved to have the statements of these two witnesses produced (i.e., turned over to the defense) so that they could be inspected and used in cross examination at trial. The trial judge denied that motion.
The Government essentially believed that it did not have to produce statements of witnesses against a defendant, made at the Government’s request, and who were paid by the Government for being a witness against the defendant. The trial court agreed with the Government, and the appellate court did too. Thankfully, the Supreme Court thought otherwise.