Ruling Thwarts Perjury Prosecutions
Posted Aug 21, 2007 6:09 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss
A federal appeals court ruling permitting grand jury witnesses to review their testimony is winning praise from criminal defense lawyers.
The June ruling could help witnesses clear up misstatements that can lead to perjury charges, defense lawyers told Legal Times. But prosecutors worry that co-defendants will share their testimony with attorneys and each other, making it easier to coordinate their stories and obstruct criminal investigations.
The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit conflicts with opinions by four other federal appeals courts, the legal newspaper says. Only one appeals court—the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit—has permitted access to grand jury transcripts, but only when witnesses can show a compelling need that outweighs the interests of secrecy.
The D.C. Circuit goes further than the 9th Circuit by finding an unqualified right of access.
"We hold that grand jury witnesses are entitled to review the transcripts of their own testimony in private at the U.S. Attorney's office or a place agreed to by the parties or designated by the district court," the D.C. Circuit panel wrote. "We leave to the sound discretion of the district court whether to permit the witnesses’ attorneys to accompany the witnesses as they review their transcripts and whether to allow the witnesses or their attorneys to take notes.”