350 U.S. 422 (1956), 58, Ullmann v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 58
Citation:350 U.S. 422, 76 S.Ct. 497, 100 L.Ed. 511
Party Name:Ullmann v. United States
Case Date:March 26, 1956
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 422

350 U.S. 422 (1956)

76 S.Ct. 497, 100 L.Ed. 511

Ullmann

v.

United States

No. 58

United States Supreme Court

March 26, 1956

Argued December 6, 1955

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Pursuant to subpoena, petitioner appeared before a federal grand jury which was investigating attempts to endanger the national security by espionage and conspiracy to commit espionage. Invoking the privilege against self-incrimination, he refused to answer questions relating to his knowledge of such activities, to his and other persons' participation in such activities, and to his and other persons' membership in the Communist Party. Under the Immunity Act of 1954, 18 U.S.C. § 2486(c), the United States Attorney, with the approval of the Attorney General, applied to a Federal District Court for an order requiring petitioner to testify before the grand jury. The Court issued such an order; petitioner persisted in his refusal to testify, and he was convicted of contempt and sentenced to imprisonment.

Held: The Act is constitutional, and the conviction is sustained. Pp. 423-439.

1. The Act does not violate the Fifth Amendment, because the immunity which it provides against prosecutions, penalties and forfeitures is sufficiently broad to displace the protection afforded by the privilege against self-incrimination. Pp. 429-431.

2. Assuming that the statutory requirements are met, subsection (c) does not give a Federal District Court discretion to deny an application for an order requiring a witness to answer relevant questions put by a grand jury, and therefore it does not impose on the Court a nonjudicial function. Pp. 431-434.

3. The Act provides immunity from state prosecution for crime; and, in doing so, it does not exceed the constitutional power of Congress. Pp. 434-436.

4. Brown v. Walker, 161 U.S. 591, reaffirmed and followed. Pp. 436-439.

221 F.2d 760, affirmed.

Page 423

FRANKFURTER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

On November 10, 1954, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York filed an application under the Immunity Act of 1954, 68 Stat. 745, 18 U.S.C. (Supp. II) § 3486, for an order requiring petitioner to testify before a grand jury. The Immunity Act, in its pertinent portions, provides:

(c) Whenever in the judgment of a United States attorney the testimony of any witness, or the production of books, papers, or other evidence by any witness, in any case or proceeding before any grand jury or court of the United States involving any interference with or endangering of, or any plans or attempts to interfere with or endanger, the national security or defense of the United States by treason, sabotage, espionage, sedition, seditious conspiracy, violations of chapter 115 of title 18 of the United States Code, violations of the Internal Security Act of 1950 (64 Stat. 987), violations of the Atomic [76 S.Ct. 499] Energy Act of 1946 (60 Stat. 755), as amended, violations of sections 212(a)(27), (28), (29) or 241(a)(6), (7) or 313(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (66 Stat. 182-186; 204-206; 240-241), and conspiracies involving any of the foregoing, is necessary to the public interest, he, upon the approval of the Attorney General, shall make application to the court that the witness shall be instructed to testify or produce evidence subject to the provisions

Page 424

of this section, and upon order of the court such witness shall not be excused from testifying or from producing books, papers, or other evidence on the ground that the testimony or evidence required of him may tend to incriminate him or subject him to a penalty or forfeiture. But no such witness shall be prosecuted or subjected to any penalty or forfeiture for or on account of any transaction, matter, or thing concerning which he is compelled, after having claimed his privilege against self-incrimination, to testify or produce evidence, nor shall testimony so compelled be used as evidence in any criminal proceeding (except prosecution described in subsection (d) hereof) against him in any court.

(d) No witness shall be exempt under the provision of this section from prosecution for perjury or contempt committed while giving testimony or producing evidence under compulsion as provided in this section.

In his application, the United States Attorney alleged the following facts. On November 3, 1954, petitioner, pursuant to subpoena, appeared before a duly constituted grand jury of the Southern District of New York which was investigating matters concerned with attempts to endanger the national security by espionage and conspiracy to commit espionage. The grand jury asked him a series of questions relating to his knowledge of such activities, to his and other persons' participation in such activities, and to his and other persons' membership in the Communist Party. Petitioner, invoking the privilege against self-incrimination, refused to answer the questions. The United States Attorney also asserted that he deemed the testimony necessary to the public interest of the United States, and annexed a letter from the Attorney General of the United States approving the application.

Page 425

The United States Attorney, in compliance with a request of the district judge, filed an affidavit asserting his own good faith in filing the application.

Petitioner, contesting the application, attacked the constitutionality of the Act and urged that, if the immunity statute be held constitutional, the District Court should, in the exercise of its discretion, deny the application. He filed an affidavit setting forth in detail experiences with agents of the Department of Justice and congressional investigating committees and other information in support of his plea for an exercise of discretion by the District Court. The Government, in reply, filed affidavits denying some of the allegations set forth in petitioner's affidavit.

On January 31, 1955, the District Court sustained the constitutionality of the statute. 128 F.Supp. 617. Its order, dated February 8, 1955, instructed petitioner

to answer the questions propounded to him before the Grand Jury and to testify and produce evidence with respect to such matters under inquiry before said Grand Jury. . . .

Petitioner appealed from this order, but the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit dismissed the appeal on the authority of Cobbledick v. United States, 309 U.S. 323.

Petitioner again refused to answer the questions which the District Court had ordered him to answer. He was then brought before the District [76 S.Ct. 500] Court and, on stipulation that he had refused to obey the order of the court of February 8, he was convicted of contempt and sentenced to six months' imprisonment unless he should purge himself of the contempt. Petitioner appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which affirmed the judgment of the District Court. 221 F.2d 760. The importance of the questions at issue, in view of the differences between the legislation sustained in Brown v. Walker, 161 U.S. 591, and the Act under review, led us to bring the case here. 349 U.S. 951.

Page 426

Four major questions are raised by this appeal: is the immunity provided by the Act sufficiently broad to displace the protection afforded by the privilege against self-incrimination? Assuming that the statutory requirements are met, does the Act give the district judge discretion to deny an application for an order requiring a witness to answer relevant questions put by the grand jury, and, if so, is the court thereby required to exercise a function that is not an exercise of "judicial Power"? Did Congress provide immunity from state prosecution for crime, and, if so, is it empowered to do so? Does the Fifth Amendment prohibit compulsion of what would otherwise be self-incriminating testimony no matter what the scope of the immunity statute?

It is relevant to define explicitly the spirit in which the Fifth Amendment's privilege against self-incrimination should be approached. This command of the Fifth Amendment ("nor shall any person . . . be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself. . . .") registers an important advance in the development of our liberty -- "one of the great landmarks in man's struggle to make himself civilized."1 Time has not shown that protection from the evils against which this safeguard was directed is needless or unwarranted. This constitutional protection must not be interpreted in a hostile or niggardly spirit. Too many, even those who should be better advised, view this privilege as a shelter for wrongdoers. They too readily assume that those who invoke it are either guilty of crime or commit perjury in claiming the privilege.2 Such a view does scant honor

Page 427

to the patriots who sponsored the Bill of Rights as a condition to acceptance of the Constitution by the ratifying States. The Founders of the Nation were not naive or disregardful of the interests of justice. The difference between them and those who deem the privilege an obstruction to due inquiry has been appropriately indicated by Chief Judge Magruder:

Our forefathers, when they wrote this provision into the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, had in mind a lot of history which has been largely forgotten today. See VIII Wigmore on Evidence (3d ed.1940) § 2250 et seq.; Morgan, The Privilege Against Self-Incrimination, 34 Minn.L.Rev. 1 (1949). They made a judgment and expressed it in our fundamental law, that it were better for an occasional crime to go unpunished than that the prosecution should be free to build up a criminal case, in whole or in part, with the assistance of enforced disclosures by the accused. The privilege against self-incrimination serves as a protection to the innocent, as well as to the guilty, and we have been...

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