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Grand Jury

Hearsay Evidence: Admissible Before A Grand Jury?

The RULES OF EVIDENCE prohibit the introduction of most HEARSAY evidence in a criminal trial. (Hearsay is evidence given by a person concerning what someone else said outside of court.) However, when Frank Costello, alias Francisco Castaglia, a notorious ORGANIZED CRIME figure of the 1940s and 1950s, argued that his conviction for federal income TAX EVASION should be overturned because the grand jury that indicted him heard only hearsay evidence, the Supreme Court rejected his claim (Costello v. United States, 350 U.S. 359, 76 S. Ct. 406, 100 L. Ed. 397 [1956]).

Prior to his trial, Costello asked to inspect the grand jury record. He claimed there could have been no legal or competent evidence before the grand jury that indicted him. The judge refused the request. At trial, Costello's attorneys established that three investigating officers were the only witnesses to testify before the grand jury. These officers summarized the vast amount of evidence compiled by their investigation and introduced computations showing, if correct, that Costello had received far greater income than he had reported. Their summaries clearly constituted hearsay, since the three officers had no firsthand knowledge of the transactions upon which their computations were based. Therefore, Costello alleged a violation of the FIFTH AMENDMENT, and asked that hearsay evidence be barred from grand jury proceedings.

Justice HUGO L. BLACK, in his majority opinion, rejected these claims, noting that "neither the Fifth Amendment nor any other constitutional provision prescribes the kind of evidence upon which grand juries must act."

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