347 U.S. 179 (1954), 271, Adams v. Maryland

Docket Nº:No. 271
Citation:347 U.S. 179, 74 S.Ct. 442, 98 L.Ed. 608
Party Name:Adams v. Maryland
Case Date:March 08, 1954
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 179

347 U.S. 179 (1954)

74 S.Ct. 442, 98 L.Ed. 608




No. 271

United States Supreme Court

March 8, 1954

Argued January 7, 1954



1. In response to a summons, petitioner appeared before a Senate Committee investigating crime. Answering without objection questions asked on behalf of the Committee, he confessed to having run a gambling business in Maryland.

Held: under 18 U.S.C. § 3486, his testimony before the Committee was inadmissible in his trial in a state court for a gambling offense, and his conviction based on such evidence is reversed. Pp. 179-183.

(a) Petitioners failure to claim a constitutional privilege against self-incrimination did not deprive him of the statutory protection afforded by § 3486. Pp. 180-181.

(b) Section 3486 applies to criminal proceedings in state courts, as well as federal courts. Pp. 181-182.

(c) Counselman v. Hitchcock, 142 U.S. 547, in no way impairs the protection afforded congressional witnesses by § 3486. Pp. 182-183.

2. As thus construed, § 3486 does not exceed the constitutional power of Congress. P. 183.

202 Md. 455, 97 A.2d 281, reversed.

BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

In response to a summons, the petitioner Adams appeared to testify before a Senate Committee investigating crime. Answering questions, he confessed to having run a gambling business in Maryland. That confession has been used in this case to convict Adams of conspiring

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to violate Maryland's anti-lottery laws. The trial court sentenced Adams to pay a fine of $2,000 and serve seven years in the state penitentiary. The Court of Appeals of Maryland affirmed, rejecting Adams' contention that use of the committee testimony against him was forbidden by a provision in a federal statute. 97 A.2d 281. That provision, now 18 U.S.C. § 3486, set out in full below, provides that no testimony given by a witness in congressional inquiries "shall be used as evidence in any criminal proceeding against him in any court. . . ."1 The Maryland Court of Appeals held that Adams had testified before the Committee "voluntarily," and was therefore not protected by § 3486. We granted certiorari because a proper understanding of the scope of this section is of importance to the national government, to the states and to witnesses summoned before congressional committees. 346 U.S. 864. In this Court, Maryland contends that the Section does not bar use of Adams' testimony, because: (1) he waived the statutory "privilege" by testifying "voluntarily," meaning that Adams failed to object to each committee question on the ground of its tendency to incriminate him; (2) the Section should be construed so as to apply to United States courts only. If these two statutory contentions are rejected, we are urged to hold that Congress is without constitutional power to bar the use of congressional committee testimony in state courts.

(1) Circumstances may be conceivable under which statements made in the presence of a congressional committee

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might not be protected by § 3486. For example, a person might voluntarily appear and obtain permission to make a statement in a committee's presence, wholly for his own advantage, and without ever being questioned by the committee at all. But Adams did not testify before the Senate Committee under any such circumstances. He was not a volunteer. He was summoned. Had he not appeared, he could have been fined and sent to jail. 2 U.S.C. § 192. Nor does the record show any spontaneous outpouring of testimony from him. The testimony Maryland used to convict him was brought out by [74 S.Ct. 445] repeated committee questions. It is true that Adams did not attempt to escape answering these questions by claiming a constitutional privilege to refuse to incriminate himself. But no language of the Act requires such a claim in order for a witness to feel secure that his testimony will not be used to convict him of crime. Indeed, a witness does not need any statute to protect him from the use of self-incriminating testimony he is compelled to give over his objection. The Fifth Amendment takes care of that without a statute. Consequently, the construction of § 3486 here urged would limit its protection to that already afforded by the Fifth Amendment, leaving the Section with no effect whatever. We reject the contention that Adams' failure to claim a constitutional privilege deprived him of the statutory protection of § 3486.

(2) Nor can we hold that the Act bars use of committee testimony in United States courts, but not in state courts. The Act forbids use of such evidence "in any criminal proceeding . . . in any court." Language could be no plainer. Even if there could be legislative history sufficiently strong to make "any court" mean United States courts only, there is no such history. The few scraps of legislative history pointed out tend to indicate that Congress was well aware that an ordinary person

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would read the phrase "in any court" to include state courts. To construe this phrase as having any other meaning would make the Act a trap for the unwary.

It is suggested, however, that, regardless of the plain meaning of § 3486 as originally passed, an event since its passage should cause us to give it...

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