Will v. United States – Case Brief

Will v. United States, 389 U.S. 90 (1967).

Case Summary

Facts: Will (D), a judge, directed the IRS to respond to a bill of particulars by the defendant to reveal information regarding oral statements relied upon by the prosecution, including identification of the persons to whom they were made, and whether those persons were government agents, and if the government had a transcript or memoranda regarding the statements. The United States government (P) refused to comply and facing dismissal, sought a writ of mandamus to compel the judge to vacate the order. The Court of Appeals at first denied the writ but then issued the writ without opinion. Judge Will’s petition for certiorari was granted.

Issue: For what purposes may a writ of mandamus be used?

Holding and Rule (Warren): A writ of mandamus may be used only to confine an inferior court to a lawful exercise of its prescribed jurisdiction or to compel it to exercise its authority when it is its duty to do so.

The Government requested the writ on the grounds that the Judge’s conduct displayed a pattern of manifest noncompliance with the rules governing federal criminal trials. The court held that there was absolutely no foundation in the record for the Government’s assertions concerning Will’s practice.

Mandamus is not a punitive remedy. Without findings of fact by the issuing court and some statement of the court’s legal reasoning the writ cannot be issued. The court held that writs of mandamus are reserved only for extraordinary cases and there was nothing in this record to demonstrate that its use was warranted in this case.

Disposition: Vacated and remanded for further proceedings.

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