Washington Law Review


The issue of whether criminal defense lawyers can compel federal prosecutors during pre-trial discovery to examine and turn over information in the personnel files of federal agents who will testify at trial has profoundly affected federal prosecutors, law enforcement agents, and defense lawyers alike. Demands for discovery of these files have risen steadily in recent years. In the hands of skilled defense counsel, information in a personnel file can be used to impeach an agent on the witness stand. For agents and prosecutors, much more is at stake than the way this information may be used at trial. Professional reputations and morale are on the line. This Article surveys the federal cases in the area, and discusses the marked split between the circuits on the issue. The Article analyzes the procedures by which the U.S. Department of Justice and the various federal law enforcement agencies have attempted to comply with rulings that have given defendants easier access than before to the personnel files of federal agents. The Article concludes with some proposals for change—ways in which the concerns of prosecutors and law enforcement agencies can be addressed without compromising a defendant's access to evidence that could affect the verdict.

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