356 U.S. 165 (1958), 100, Green v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 100
Citation:356 U.S. 165, 78 S.Ct. 632, 2 L.Ed.2d 672
Party Name:Green v. United States
Case Date:March 31, 1958
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 165

356 U.S. 165 (1958)

78 S.Ct. 632, 2 L.Ed.2d 672

Green

v.

United States

No. 100

United States Supreme Court

March 31, 1958

Argued October 21, 1957

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

After petitioners were convicted of violating the Smith Act and sentenced to fine and imprisonment, they were enlarged on bail pending appeal. After this Court affirmed their convictions in Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494, the United States Attorney served their counsel with copies of a proposed order on mandate requiring petitioners to surrender to the Marshal on July 2, 1951, for execution of their sentences and with notice that such order would be presented to the District Court for signature on July 2. Petitioners were informed by their counsel that their presence in court would be required on July 2, but they disappeared from their homes, failed to appear in court when the surrender order was signed on July 2, and remained fugitives for more than 4 1/2 years. After they finally surrendered to the Marshal, they were tried in the District Court without a jury for criminal contempt, under 18 U.S.C. § 401 and Rule 42 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, for willful disobedience of the surrender order, and were convicted and sentenced to three years' imprisonment, to commence after service of the five-year sentences imposed for violations of the Smith Act.

Held: their convictions of criminal contempt and the sentences therefor are sustained. Pp. 167-189.

1. Under 18 U.S.C. § 401, the power of federal courts to punish for criminal contempts, viewed in its historical perspective, includes the power to punish for disobedience of surrender orders. Pp. 168-173.

(a) Section 17 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 attributed to the federal judiciary powers possessed by English courts at common law to punish for contempts of court. P. 169.

(b) The Act of 1831 was intended to curtail the powers of federal courts to punish under the contempt power for certain conduct, not, however, of the kind involved here. It represented an effort by the Congress to define independently the contempt powers of federal courts. Pp. 170-173.

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2. The evidence was sufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt petitioners' knowing violations of the surrender order. Pp. 173-179.

3. The District Court had power to sentence petitioners to imprisonment for more than one year. Pp. 179-187.

(a) Section 24 of the Clayton Act of 1914 (now found in amended form in 18 U.S.C. § 402), providing that contempts other than those referred to in § 24 were to be punished "in conformity to the usages at law . . . now prevailing," did not freeze into contempt law the sentencing practices of federal courts up to 1914, but means that contempts (including that involved in this case) other than those specified in § 24 were to be tried by normal contempt procedures, such as trial without jury. Pp. 179-182.

(b) Under 18 U.S.C. § 401, as under its statutory predecessors, the term of imprisonment is not subject to a one-year limitation, but is within the discretion of the court. Pp. 182-183.

(c) Criminal contempts need not be prosecuted by indictment, since they are not "infamous crimes" within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment's provision that "No person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury." Pp. 183-185.

(d) This conclusion follows from the long line of cases in this Court to the effect that criminal contempts are not subject to jury trial as a matter of constitutional right under Article III, § 2 or the Sixth Amendment. Pp. 183-187.

4. Although federal courts, in dealing with criminal contempts, have a duty to exercise special care in applying their discretion to length of sentences imposed for commission of contempts, the three-year sentences here did not constitute an abuse of discretion on the part of the District Court. Pp. 187-189.

241 F.2d 631 affirmed.

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HARLAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners are two of eleven defendants who were convicted in the Southern District of New York in 1949 of conspiring to teach and advocate the violent overthrow of the Government in violation of the Smith Act, 54 Stat. 670, 671, 18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 2385. Their convictions, each carrying a $10,000 fine and five years' imprisonment, were affirmed by this Court on June 4, 1951, in Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494. After their convictions, petitioners had been enlarged on bail, and, following the affirmance, the United States Attorney served counsel for the petitioners on June 28, 1951, with copies of a proposed order on mandate requiring petitioners to surrender to the United States Marshal on July 2 for the execution of their sentences, and with a notice that such order would be presented to the District Court for signature on the indicated day of surrender. Petitioners were thereupon informed by their counsel that their presence in court would be required on July 2. Both, however, disappeared from their homes, failed to appear in court when the surrender order was signed on July 2, and remained fugitives for more than four and a half years. Ultimately both voluntarily surrendered to the United States Marshal in New York, Green on February 27, 1956, and Winston on March 5, 1956.

Shortly thereafter, the United States instituted criminal contempt proceedings against the petitioners in the District Court for willful disobedience of the surrender order in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 401 (see p. 168 infra). Pursuant to Rule 42(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, these proceedings were tried to the court without a jury.1 Following a hearing, the court found

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petitioners guilty of the contempts charged and sentenced each to three years' imprisonment to commence after service of the five-year sentences imposed in the conspiracy case. See 140 F.Supp. 117 (opinion as to Green). The Court of Appeals affirmed, 241 F.2d 631, and we granted certiorari because [78 S.Ct. 635] the case presented important issues relating to the scope of the power of federal district courts to convict and sentence for criminal contempts. 353 U.S. 972.

The petitioners urge four grounds for reversal, namely: (1) the criminal contempt power of federal courts does not extend to surrender orders; (2) even if such power exists, the evidence was insufficient to support the judgments of contempt; (3) a prison sentence for criminal contempt cannot, as a matter of law, exceed one year; and (4) in any event, the three-year sentences imposed were so excessive as to constitute an abuse of discretion on the part of the District Court. For the reasons given hereafter we think that none of these contentions can be sustained, and that the judgment of the Court of Appeals must be upheld.

I

The contempt judgments rest on 18 U.S.C. § 401, which in pertinent part provides that a federal court:

. . . shall have power to punish by fine or imprisonment at its discretion, such contempt of its authority, and none other, as --

* * * *

(3) Disobedience or resistance to its lawful . . . order. . . .

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Since the order here issued was beyond dispute "lawful," §401 plainly empowered the District Court to punish petitioners for disobeying it unless, as petitioners claim, this order is outside the scope of subdivision (3). This claim rests on the argument that the statute, viewed in its historical context, does not embrace an order requiring the surrender of a bailed defendant.

An evaluation of this argument requires an analysis of the course of development of federal statutes relating to criminal contempts. The first statute bearing on the contempt powers of federal courts was enacted as § 17 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, 1 Stat. 73, 83. It stated that federal courts "shall have power to . . . punish by fine or imprisonment at the discretion of said courts, all contempts of authority in any cause or hearing before the same. . . ." The generality of this language suggests that § 17 was intended to do no more than expressly attribute to the federal judiciary those powers to punish for contempt possessed by English courts at common law. Indeed, this Court has itself stated that, under § 17, the definition of contempts and the procedure for their trial were "left to be determined according to such established rules and principles of the common law as were applicable to our situation." Ex parte Savin, 131 U.S. 267, 275-276.2 At English common law, disobedience of a writ under the King's seal was early treated as a contempt, 4 Blackstone Commentaries 284, 285; Beale, Contempt of Court, 21 Harv.L.Rev. 161, 164-167; Fox, The Summary Process to Punish Contempt, 25 L.Q.Rev. 238, 249, and, over the centuries, English courts came to use the

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King's seal as a matter of course as a means of making effective their own process. Beale at 167. It follows that, under the Judiciary Act of 1789, the contempt powers of the federal courts comprehended the power to punish violations of their own orders.3

[78 S.Ct. 636] So much the petitioners recognize. They point out, however, that, at early English law, courts dealt with absconding defendants not by way of contempt, but under the ancient doctrine of outlawry, a practice whereby the defendant was summoned by proclamation to five successive county courts and, for failure to appear, was declared forfeited of all his goods and chattels. 4 Blackstone Commentaries 283, 319. In view of this distinct method at English common law of punishing refusal to respond to this summons, which was the equivalent of the present...

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