359 U.S. 41 (1959), 4, Brown v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 4
Citation:359 U.S. 41, 79 S.Ct. 539, 3 L.Ed.2d 609
Party Name:Brown v. United States
Case Date:March 09, 1959
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 41

359 U.S. 41 (1959)

79 S.Ct. 539, 3 L.Ed.2d 609

Brown

v.

United States

No. 4

United States Supreme Court

March 9, 1959

Argued October 16, 1958

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury which was investigating possible violations of Part II of the Interstate Commerce Act, petitioner refused, on grounds of possible self-incrimination, to answer questions which were concededly relevant to the grand jury's inquiry. The grand jury sought the aid of the district judge, who heard extensive arguments on the subject, ruled that petitioner would be accorded immunity as extensive as the privilege he had asserted, and ordered petitioner to answer the questions. After returning to the jury room, petitioner persisted in his refusal, and he was again brought before the district judge, who addressed the same questions to him in the presence of the grand jury, explicitly directed him to answer them, and, upon his refusal to do so, adjudged him guilty of criminal contempt and sentenced him to imprisonment for 15 months.

Held: the judgment is sustained. Pp. 42-52.

1. Section 205(e) of the Motor Carrier Act, 49 U.S.C. § 305(d), clothed petitioner with statutory immunity coextensive with his constitutional privilege not to incriminate himself, and therefore he had an unqualified duty to answer the questions as he was directed to do. Pp. 44-47.

2. Since petitioner's disobedience of the court's order occurred in the court's presence, it was proper for the court to proceed under Rule 42(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, and the court's action in affording petitioner a locus penitentiae before finally adjudicating him in contempt was entirely proper. Pp. 47-52.

3. The sentence of 15 months' imprisonment was not an abuse of the District Court's discretion. P. 52.

247 F.2d 332 affirmed.

Page 42

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner was sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment for criminal contempt stemming from his refusal to testify before a federal grand jury. His conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, 247 F.2d 332. The case was brought here primarily to review the validity of the procedure which resulted in the contempt adjudication. 356 U.S. 926. Other issues relate to the nature and extent of immunity from prosecution conferred by § 205(e) of the Interstate Commerce Act, as amended,1 and the severity of the punishment imposed by the District Court.

A grand jury in the Southern District of New York, investigating possible violations of Part II of the Interstate Commerce Act,2 issued a subpoena directing the petitioner to appear and testify as to "all and everything which you may know in regard to an alleged violation of Sections 309, 322 Title 49, United States Code." In response to this subpoena, the petitioner appeared and, after being sworn, answered a few preliminary questions. He was then asked six further questions concededly relevant to the grand jury's inquiry. These he refused to answer upon the ground of possible self-incrimination. After consulting with his lawyer, who was continuously present in an adjoining anteroom, the petitioner persisted in his refusal to answer, although advised at length by the Assistant United States Attorney that the applicable

Page 43

statute conferred complete immunity from prosecution as to any matter concerning which the petitioner might testify, and that, therefore, "you do not have any privilege to plead the Fifth Amendment."

Thereupon, the scene of the proceedings shifted to the courtroom, where the grand jury sought the aid of the district judge. After being apprised of what had transpired in the grand jury room, the district judge heard extensive argument by counsel as to the scope of immunity afforded a grand jury witness under the applicable statute.

Following a weekend recess, the district judge ruled that, under the statute, the petitioner would be accorded immunity as extensive as the privilege he had asserted, and directed that the petitioner therefore return to the grand jury room and answer the questions. Later the same day, the grand jury again returned to the courtroom "to request the aid and assistance of the Court." The district judge was advised through the official reporter that the petitioner had refused to obey the court's order to answer the questions.

The judge then addressed the same questions to the petitioner in the grand jury's presence. Each question was met with a refusal to answer upon the ground [79 S.Ct. 543] of possible self-incrimination. The petitioner was thereupon explicitly directed by the judge to answer each question, and he just as explicitly refused. The judge inquired whether the petitioner would persist in his refusal if he returned to the grand jury room and were again asked the questions there. The petitioner replied that he would. After further argument by counsel, the district judge held the petitioner in contempt and imposed sentence.

Throughout the proceedings in the courtroom, the petitioner was represented by counsel, who unsuccessfully advanced three basic contentions: (1) a witness who testifies before a grand jury investigating offenses under the Motor Carrier Act is accorded no statutory immunity

Page 44

from subsequent prosecution based upon his testimony. (2) Even if some immunity is conferred, it is not coextensive with the constitutional privilege against self-incrimination. (3) In any event, the District Court, by adjudging the petitioner in criminal contempt without following the procedural requirements of Rule 42(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, deprived the petitioner of due process of law. The same contentions are advanced here. In addition, we are asked to hold that the sentence of 15 months' imprisonment was an abuse of the District Court's discretion.

In determining that § 205(e) of the Motor Carrier Act clothed the petitioner with statutory immunity coextensive with his constitutional privilege not to incriminate himself, the District Court and the Court of Appeals were plainly correct. The relevant statutory language is unambiguous:

. . . and any person subpoenaed or testifying in connection with any matter under investigation under this chapter shall have the same rights, privileges, and immunities, and be subject to the same duties, liabilities, and penalties, as though such matter arose under chapter 1 of this title (Part I of the Interstate Commerce Act). . . .3

The obvious purpose and effect of this

Page 45

language is to confer the same immunity upon a witness testifying in an investigation under Part II of the Interstate Commerce Act as is conferred upon one testifying in an investigation under Part I. Both Part I and Part II contain criminal sanctions, and the power of a grand jury to investigate violations of either Part is unquestioned.

The statute which confers immunity upon a witness testifying in a grand jury investigation under Part I was enacted in 1893.4 For more than [79 S.Ct. 544] half a century, it has

Page 46

been settled that this statute confers immunity from prosecution coextensive with the constitutional privilege against self-incrimination, and that the witness may not therefore lawfully refuse to testify. Brown v. Walker, 161 U.S. 591 (1896). The context in which the doctrine originated and the history of its reaffirmance through the years have been so recently reexamined by this Court in Ullmann v. United States, 350 U.S. 422, as to make it a needless exercise to retrace that ground here. Suffice it to repeat that Brown v. Walker has become "part of our constitutional fabric." 350 U.S. at 438. It is thus clearly too late in the day to question the constitutional sufficiency of the immunity provided under Part I of the Act.

In contending that this immunity is not fully imported into Part II, the petitioner grasps at straws. He points out that the above-quoted language of 49 U.S.C. § 305(d), which incorporates into Part II the immunity provisions of Part I, is separated by only a semicolon from a provision which gives the Commission investigative powers under Part II. See footnote 3. He would therefore have us rewrite the section so as to make the immunity provision applicable only to witnesses appearing before the Commission, not to those appearing before a grand jury or in a court. Such a construction would not only do violence to plain language, but also, as the Court of Appeals observed, to the whole structure of the Interstate Commerce Act. See 247 F.2d at 336, 337.

The petitioner argues, alternatively, that, even if some immunity is granted by Part II to a grand jury witness, the immunity is not commensurate with that of Part I, and that its scope is therefore constitutionally insufficient. The contention is that § 305(d) provides immunity from

Page 47

prosecution only for offenses related to violations of the Motor Carrier Act itself, because of the clause appearing at the beginning of the section -- "So far as may be necessary for the purposes of this chapter." See footnote 3. Assuming that this clause limits the immunity provision of the section at all, it clearly limits only the class of witnesses to whom the immunity will attach, not the scope of the immunity conferred. The petitioner "subpoenaed . . . in connection with [a] matter under investigation under this chapter . . . necessary for the purposes of this chapter" was clearly within that class.

[79 S.Ct. 545] Congress thus provided that the petitioner could not and would not incriminate himself by answering the questions put to him. He could not

be prosecuted or subjected to any penalty or...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP