The United States government (plaintiff) prosecuted Bernard Heinlein and brothers David and Frank Walker (defendants) for murder and sexual assault. The sole eyewitness, James Harding, had a chronic alcoholism-related memory disorder. Harding did not make his first statement to the police until three days after the incident. At trial, the defense’s cross examination exposed inconsistencies in Harding's confused testimony. However, Harding never wavered from his assertion that Heinlein and the Walkers were guilty. Circumstantial evidence corroborated Harding’s testimony in key respects. Based on Harding's inconsistent testimony and unreliable memory, the defense moved the court to order a psychiatric examination of Harding to determine if his testimony was competent. The judge determined Harding exhibited signs of chronic alcoholism but not incompetence and denied the motion. The jury convicted Heinlein and the Walkers. Heinlein and the Walkers appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on the grounds that the judge exceeded his discretion in denying the defense’s motion.