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United States v. Berrios

decided: August 8, 1974.


Appeal by the government from an order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Orrin Judd, Judge, dismissing an indictment because of the government's failure to comply with an order requiring it to disclose to the defendants a government memorandum sought in support of their claim of selective and discriminatory prosecution. Order vacated and case remanded.

Kaufman, Chief Judge, Mansfield and Mulligan, Circuit Judges.

Author: Mansfield

MANSFIELD, Circuit Judge:

At issue on this appeal by the government is the question of whether the district court, after the defendant Pablo Berrios alleged that in this case he had been the victim of selective and discriminatory prosecution by the government, acted properly and within its powers in dismissing the indictment against all defendants because of the government's refusal to turn over to the court for disclosure to defense counsel a memorandum that had been sent by the prosecutor to the United States Department of Justice recommending that prosecution of the defendants be initiated. We vacate the district court's order and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Some eighty years ago, the Supreme Court observed that the administration of laws "with an evil eye and an unequal hand, so as practically to make unjust and illegal discrimination between persons in similar circumstances" constitutes a denial of equal protection. Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 373-374, 30 L. Ed. 220, 6 S. Ct. 1064 (1886). Nothing can corrode respect for a rule of law more than the knowledge that the government looks beyond the law itself to arbitrary considerations, such as race, religion, or control over the defendant's exercise of his constitutional rights, as the basis for determining its applicability. See Oyler v. Boles, 368 U.S. 448, 456, 7 L. Ed. 2d 446, 82 S. Ct. 501 (1962). Selective prosecution then can become a weapon used to discipline political foe and the dissident, see, e.g., United States v. Falk, 479 F.2d 616 (7th Cir. 1973); United States v. Steele, 461 F.2d 1148 (9th Cir. 1972). The prosecutor's objective is then diverted from the public interest to the punishment of those harboring beliefs with which the administration in power may disagree. This case involves such allegations.

In an indictment filed on January 8, 1973, appellee Berrios stands accused of holding union office in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 504, which provides that no person who has been convicted of the crime of arson, among others, shall within five years of such conviction serve as an officer or employee of a labor organization.*fn1 Berrios, it is alleged, was convicted of the crime of arson by the Supreme Court of New York in 1971 and, notwithstanding that conviction, within five years thereafter became Trustee and a member of the Executive Board of Teamsters Union Local 840. His success in achieving these positions is the cause of his present plight. The other appellees (Nuchow, Principe and Zaretsky) were later charged with violating § 504 by wilfully and knowingly permitting Berrios to hold union office after his conviction.

Berrios contends that he was chosen for prosecution because he was counted among the few Teamster officials who were in 1972 outspoken in their support of Senator McGovern for President as against President Nixon and because he was at that time spearheading an effort to unionize the Marriott Restaurant Chain, an enterprise that apparently enjoys close ties with President Nixon and his family. In support of his charge of selective prosecution, Berrios submitted the affidavit of his counsel, Martin Garbus, Esq., which states that he and his client "believe" that (1) there have been only three prosecutions under § 504 since 1969;*fn2 (2) Mr. Marriott has been a close friend of the President and a substantial contributor to his political campaign; (3) Donald Nixon, the President's brother, is a vice-president of Marriott; (4) Herbert Kalmbach, attorney for Marriott, was also the President's personal attorney; (5) Charles Colson, formerly counsel to the President and later counsel to the Teamsters Union was a "prime mover in the prosecution", and (6) there are hundreds of unions with officers who have prison records.*fn3 Although Berrios' counsel later pointed to newspaper articles as the basis for some of these beliefs, no evidence or facts were offered to show the basis of his belief that numerous other violations of 29 U.S.C. § 504 had gone unprosecuted. Nevertheless, on the strength of the affidavit, Berrios moved for a hearing on his defense of selective prosecution.

Upon oral argument, which was conducted by the court for the purpose of determining whether a hearing was required, counsel for Berrios urged that he had shown enough to warrant further exploration by way of a hearing. As might be anticipated, the government took the opposite view, pointing out the vagueness of Berrios' allegations and explaining that the prosecutor had learned of Berrios' criminal record while investigating a charge of arson lodged against him for an attempted firebomb attack on a Marriott restaurant. (Berrios was acquitted of this charge after a jury trial before Judge Judd on February 7, 1973). Judge Judd suggested that the charge of selective prosecution might be resolved without a hearing if the government would turn over a copy of the letter from the prosecutor to his superiors, which originally sought authorization for the prosecution of Berrios. At first the government resisted this idea on the ground that the material sought was confidential. Eventually, however, the United States Attorney proposed a compromise: let the judge view the memorandum in camera and, if he should determine that there was nothing to support Berrios' claim, return it to the government without disclosure to the defense. Defense counsel, dissatisfied with the notion of a completely in camera inspection, prevailed upon the judge to order that the defendants should have access to the memorandum which would be redacted only to the extent necessary to protect against disclosure of any confidential grand jury testimony.

When the government declined to comply with the disclosure order Judge Judd, acting upon Berrios' motion for dismissal of the indictment, see Alderman v. United States, 394 U.S. 165, 22 L. Ed. 2d 176, 89 S. Ct. 961 (1969), filed an opinion and order on January 7, 1974, directing that the indictment be dismissed unless the government within thirty days submitted the memorandum to the court for its study and for release to the defendants of any portions thereof which the court should determine "are not required to be kept confidential." In his opinion Judge Judd held that Berrios' allegations warranted a hearing on the selective prosecution issue and that Berrios' "offer of proof" was sufficient to create a prima facie case of selective prosecution. Upon the government's refusal to produce the memorandum on the terms specified by Judge Judd, the court, on February 8, 1974, dismissed the indictment, from which the Government appeals.


To support a defense of selective or discriminatory prosecution, a defendant bears the heavy burden of establishing, at least prima facie, (1) that, while others similarly situated have not generally been proceeded against because of conduct of the type forming the basis of the charge against him, he has been singled out for prosecution, and (2) that the government's discriminatory selection of him for prosecution has been invidious or in bad faith, i.e., based upon such impermissible considerations as race, religion, or the desire to prevent his exercise of constitutional rights. These two essential elements are sometimes referred to as "intentional and purposeful discrimination." See Snowden v. Hughes, 321 U.S. 1, 8, 88 L. Ed. 497, 64 S. Ct. 397 (1943); Moss v. Hornig, 314 F.2d 89, 92-93 (2d Cir. 1963); United States v. Ahmad, 347 F. Supp. 912 (M.D. Pa. 1972), aff'd, sub. nom. United States v. Berrigan, 482 F.2d 171 (3rd Cir. 1973); United States v. Falk, 479 F.2d 616 (7th Cir. 1973) (en banc); United States v. Crowthers, 456 F.2d 1074 (4th Cir. 1972); United States v. Steele, 461 F.2d 1148 (9th Cir. 1972), See Comment, "The Right to Nondiscriminatory Enforcement of State Penal Laws," 61 Colum. L. Rev. 1103 (1961). Mere "conscious exercise of some selectivity in enforcement is not in itself a federal constitutional violation." Oyler v. Boles, 368 U.S. 448, 456, 7 L. Ed. 2d 446, 82 S. Ct. 501 (1962).

In the present case, in an effort to support his defense of selective prosecution, Berrios sought a hearing and disclosure of certain government records solely upon the basis of his counsel's affidavit to the effect that he and his clients "believe" that facts indicating a vindictive motive on the part of the government exist (as outlined above) and their further belief that "there are hundreds of unions who have men with prison records sitting as officers." In support of the latter claim, although Berrios introduced a letter from the Department of Justice to the effect that there had been three indictments of others for violations of § 504 since July 1969, he neither named any unprosecuted violators nor identified any of the unions in which they allegedly held office.

Clearly the defendants are not entitled under Rule 16, F.R. Crim. P., to disclosure of the government records sought by them, since Rule 16(b) expressly exempts from discovery "reports, memoranda, or other internal government documents made by government agents in connection with the investigation and prosecution of the case . . ." Upon an adequate preliminary showing of relevancy, however, the district court may hold a hearing upon a motion raising defenses or objections, Rule 12(b) (4), F.R. Crim. P., and issue a subpoena directing the government to produce books, papers or records for introduction at the hearing, Rule 17(c), F.R. Crim. P. Upon the meagre preliminary showing made here, we doubt whether we would have granted a hearing or ordered the production of evidence for such a hearing, since Berrios appears frankly to have embarked upon a fishing expedition. The effect could be to encourage use of the defense of selective prosecution, however baseless, as a means of obtaining discovery to which the defense would not otherwise be entitled. In order to show what has been described by the Third Circuit as a "colorable basis" entitling the defense to subpoena documentary evidence required to establish a selective prosecution defense, see United States v. Berrigan, 482 F.2d at 177, 181, we would first require some evidence tending to show the existence of the essential elements of the defense and that the documents in the government's possession would indeed be probative of these elements. In this case, Berrios has not pointed to the existence of a single unprosecuted violation of § 504 on the part of others, even though proof of this essential element would not necessarily be in the government's exclusive control. See, e.g., United States v. Falk, 479 F.2d 616 (7th Cir. 1973) (en banc).*fn4 Nor has Berrios represented that the government's files, including the prosecutor's recommendation that prosecution be initiated, will in fact support his beliefs.

Notwithstanding the apparent weakness of Berrios' claim, we recognize that the decision to permit a hearing and, in anticipation thereof, to authorize a subpoena of evidence in the government's possession, lies largely in the trial judge's discretion. As the Supreme Court has just stated in United States v. ...

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