343 U.S. 1 (1952), 201, Sacher v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 201, Oct. Term, 1950
Citation:343 U.S. 1, 72 S.Ct. 451, 96 L.Ed. 717
Party Name:Sacher v. United States
Case Date:March 10, 1952
Court:United States Supreme Court

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343 U.S. 1 (1952)

72 S.Ct. 451, 96 L.Ed. 717



United States

No. 201, Oct. Term, 1950

United States Supreme Court

March 10, 1952

Argued January 9, 1952




1.Rule 42(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure allows a trial judge, upon the occurrence in his presence of a contempt, immediately and summarily to punish it if, in his opinion, delay will prejudice the trial. If he believes the exigencies of the trial require that he defer judgment until its completion, he may do so without extinguishing his power. P. 11.

2. During a turbulent nine-months' trial of eleven Communist Party leaders on charges of violating the Smith Act, defense counsel, in the presence of the trial judge and in the face of repeated warnings from him that their conduct was regarded as contemptuous, persisted in a course of conduct that was highly contemptuous and that tended to disrupt and delay the trial and possibly to cause a mistrial. Upon receiving the verdict of the jury at the conclusion of the trial, the trial judge, without further notice or hearing, immediately filed a certificate under Rule 42(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure summarily finding such counsel guilty of criminal contempt and sentencing them to imprisonment.

Held: this action was within the power of the trial judge under Rule 42(a). Pp. 3-11.

(a) The word "summary" as used in Rule 42(a) does not refer to the timing of the action with reference to the offense, but refers to a procedure which dispenses with the formality, delay, and digression that would result from the issuance of process, service of complaint

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and answer, holding hearings, taking evidence, listening to arguments, awaiting briefs, submission of findings, and all that goes with a conventional court trial. P. 9.

(b) Neither the language of the Rule nor the reasons for permitting straight-way exercise of summary power requires immediate action. Pp. 9-10.

(c) The overriding consideration is the integrity and efficiency of the trial process, and, if the judge deems immediate action inexpedient, he should be allowed discretion to follow the procedure taken in this case. P. 10.

3. It is not necessary for this Court to consider the trial judge's charge that petitioners deliberately entered into an agreement to impair his health, since the Court of Appeals found the judgment amply sustained without this count, the sentences ran concurrently, and reversal on one count does not require reversal on the others. P. 11.

4.Rule 42(a) does not deny a trial judge power summarily to punish a contempt that is personal to himself, even when it is not necessary to forestall abortion of the trial. Pp. 11-12.

5. The sentences imposed in this case need not intimidate lawyers in the proper performance of their professional duties as trial counsel, for they know that, from any summary conviction under Rule 42(a), they have an appeal on law and fact to the Court of Appeals. Pp. 12-13.

6. If its aid be needed, this Court will unhesitatingly protect counsel in fearless, vigorous and effective performance of every duty pertaining to the office of the advocate on behalf of any person whatsoever. Pp. 13-14.

182 F.2d 416 affirmed.

At the conclusion of the trial in Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494, the trial court, under Rule 42(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, summarily adjudged petitioners guilty of contempt while acting as counsel for the defendants during the trial and sentenced them to imprisonment. The Court of Appeals reversed some specifications of contempt, but affirmed the conviction and sentences. 182 F.2d 416. This Court denied certiorari, 341 U.S. 952, but later granted certiorari limited to one question. 342 U.S. 858. Affirmed, p. 14.

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JACKSON, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

After a turbulent nine months of trial, eleven Communist Party leaders were convicted of violating the Smith Act.1 On receiving the verdict, the trial judge at once filed a certificate under Rule 42(a), Fed.Rules Crim.Proc., finding petitioners guilty of criminal contempt and imposing various jail terms up to six months. Those sentenced were defense counsel, with the exception of one defendant who had elected to conduct his own case.

The Court of Appeals reviewed the judge's action, both on facts and law, reversed some specifications of contempt, but affirmed the conviction and sentences.2 Judge Augustus Hand, who favored affirmance on all charges, pronounced petitioners' conduct concerted and willfully obstructive and described it as including "persistent obstructive colloquies, objections, arguments, and many groundless charges against the court. . . ."3 Judge Frank, who favored reversal of those specifications which were reversed, declared that the court affirmed the remaining ones

only because of the lawyers' outrageous conduct -- conduct of a kind which no lawyer owes his client, which cannot ever be justified, and which was never employed

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by those advocates, for minorities or for the unpopular, whose courage has made lawyerdom proud.4

Judge Clark, who would have reversed the entire judgment because of the procedure under consideration by us, began his opinion:

To one schooled in Anglo-Saxon traditions of legal decorum, the resistance pressed by these appellants on various occasions to the rulings of the trial judge necessarily appears abominable.5

The actual effect of petitioner's conduct on the trial and on the burden of subsequent courts in reviewing an unnecessarily large record also was noted by a differently composed Court of Appeals when they sought reversal of their clients' conviction and assigned misconduct and bias of the trial judge as one of the grounds. The Court found that it could not consider the accusations against the judge separately from behavior of counsel. It unanimously found their charges against the trial judge "completely unconvincing," and, of their own conduct, said, "All was done that could contribute to make impossible an orderly and speedy dispatch of the case. . . ."6 The nature of this obstruction was thus described:

The record discloses a judge, sorely tried for many months of [72 S.Ct. 453] turmoil, constantly provoked by useless bickering, exposed to offensive slights and insults, harried with interminable repetition, who, if at times he did not conduct himself with the impeturbability of a Rhadamanthus, showed considerably greater self-control and forbearance than it is given to most judges to possess.7

We denied petition for further review of the contempt issue.8 On reconsideration, however, the importance of

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clarifying the permissible practice in such cases persuaded us to grant certiorari, limited to one question of procedure on which there was disagreement in the court below. Our order stated the issue for consideration:

. . . The sole question for review is: was the charge of contempt, as and when certified, one which the accusing judge was authorized under Rule 42(a) . . . to determine and punish himself, or was it one to be adjudged and punished under Rule 42(b) only by a judge other than the accusing one and after notice, hearing, and opportunity to defend?9

The certificate of contempt fills sixty pages of our record, and incorporates by reference the 13,000 pages of trial record. The certificate in full10 and summary of relevant evidence have been reported below. Because our limited review does not require or permit reexamination of the facts, no purpose would be served by detailed recitals. It is relevant to the questions of law to observe that the behavior punished as a result of the Court of Appeals' judgment has these characteristics: it took place in the immediate presence of the trial judge; it consisted of breaches of decorum and disobedience in the presence of the jury of his orders and rulings upon the trial; the misconduct was professional in that it was that of lawyers, or of a layman acting as his own lawyer. In addition, conviction is not based on an isolated instance of hasty contumacious speech or behavior, but upon a course of conduct long continued in the face of warnings that it was regarded by the court as contemptuous. The nature of the deportment was not such as merely to offend personal sensitivities of the judge, but it prejudiced the expeditious, orderly and dispassionate conduct of the trial.

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We have taken no issue as to the statute which confers power on a federal court to punish for contempt,11 but only as to the regularity of the procedure under Rule 42,12 designed to provide for the manner [72 S.Ct. 454] of exercising

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that power. The issue we accepted for review is a narrow one. Petitioners do not deny that they might have been summarily punished for their conduct without hearing under Rule 42(a) if the trial judge had acted at once upon occurrence of each incident. But it is contended that this power of summary punishment expired by reason of two circumstances: (1) that the trial judge awaited completion of the trial, at which time its progress could no longer be obstructed, and hence, it is said, summary action had become unnecessary, and (2) that he included in the certificate a charge that the contemptuous instances were the result of agreement between counsel which, if it existed, was not made in his presence. Therefore, it is argued that petitioners could not be convicted or sentenced except after notice, time for preparation of a defense, and hearing, probably before another judge, as provided in Rule 42(b).

Rule 42 obviously was intended to make more explicit "the prevailing...

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