249 U.S. 378 (1919), 27, Ex Parte Hudgings

Docket Nº:No. 27, Original
Citation:249 U.S. 378, 39 S.Ct. 337, 63 L.Ed. 656
Party Name:Ex Parte Hudgings
Case Date:April 14, 1919
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 378

249 U.S. 378 (1919)

39 S.Ct. 337, 63 L.Ed. 656

Ex Parte Hudgings

No. 27, Original

United States Supreme Court

April 14, 1919

Argued December 9, 1918



The basis of the power of the federal courts to punish summarily for contempt committed in their presence is to secure them from obstruction in the performance of their judicial duties, and, to justify exertion of this power, the element of obstruction must clearly appear. P. 383.

Because perjury is punishable as a criminal offense is no reason why it may not also afford basis for punishment as a contempt. P. 382.

Page 379

Perjury in facie curiae is not of itself punishable as contempt apart from its obstructive tendency. P. 383.

Hence, a district court has no power to adjudge a witness guilty of contempt solely because, in the court's opinion, he is willfully refusing to testify truthfully, and to confine him until he shall purge himself by giving testimony which the court deems truthful. P. 384.

In such a case, held that the original jurisdiction of this Court in habeas corpus was properly invoked. Id.

Petitioner discharged.

The case is stated in the opinion.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

After hearing and leave granted on a rule to show cause, this petition for habeas corpus seeking the discharge of the petitioner from custody under a commitment for contempt was filed. The grounds for discharge were that the court had exceeded its jurisdiction by punishing as a contempt an act which it had no power to so punish, and that, even if the act punished was susceptible of being treated as a contempt, the action of the court was arbitrary, beyond the limits of any discretion possessed, and violative of due process of law under the Fifth Amendment. Prior to submission and after return and the hearing which ensued, an order admitting to bail was made.

The duty to consider the case arises from the permission to file, and therefore prima facie implies that it is of such a character as to be an exception to the rule of procedure that other available sources of judicial power may not be passed by for the purpose of obtaining relief by resort to the original jurisdiction of this Court. Ex parte

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Royall, 117 U.S. 254; Riggins v. United States, 199 U.S. 547; Glasgow v. Moyer, 225 U.S. 420, 428; Johnson v. Hoy, 227 U.S. 245; Jones v. Perkins, 245 U.S. 390; Re Mirzan, 119 U.S. 584; Re Huntington, 137 U.S. 63. Whether, however, definitively the case is of such exceptional character must depend upon an analysis of the merits, which we now proceed to make upon the petition, the return, argument for the petitioner, suggestions by the United States, a statement by the judge, and a transcript of the stenographer's notes showing what transpired in the court below, made a part of the argument of the petitioner and in substance conceded by all parties to be the record.

In a trial which was proceeding in the court below, presided over by the judge of the District of Vermont assigned to the Eastern District of New York, the petitioner was recalled as a witness by the government for the purpose of proving by his testimony the handwriting of MacMillan and Van Amburgh. On being shown the writings referred to, in answer to questions by the government, he said that he believed, from having often seen the writing of the persons named, that the writings shown him were theirs, but that he could not so state from having seen MacMillan and Van Amburgh write, because he could not recollect ever having seen them do so. The court thereupon pointedly questioned the witness on the subject of his recollection, and, in view of his persistency in declaring that he could not swear from knowledge derived from a recollection of having seen MacMillan and Van Amburgh write or sign that the writings were theirs, states to government counsel that, because of the evident unwillingness of the witness, the widest latitude would be allowed the government in its examination. This was availed of, and an inquiry followed covering a wide [39 S.Ct. 339] field as to the previous association of the witness with the parties in question, his employment in

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the business in which they were engaged, and other circumstances deemed to persuasively establish that his connection with them had been such that his statement that he could not remember having seen them write was untrue.

The inquiries, however, made no...

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