364 U.S. 350 (1960), 22, Chaunt v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 22
Citation:364 U.S. 350, 81 S.Ct. 147, 5 L.Ed.2d 120
Party Name:Chaunt v. United States
Case Date:November 14, 1960
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 350

364 U.S. 350 (1960)

81 S.Ct. 147, 5 L.Ed.2d 120



United States

No. 22

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 14, 1960

Argued October 17, 1960




Under § 340(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, as amended, the United States sued to revoke the order admitting petitioner to citizenship, on the ground that it had been procured "by concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation." The complaint alleged, and the District Court found, that petitioner had concealed membership in the Communist Party, a lack of intent to renounce foreign allegiance, and a record of arrests, and it revoked his citizenship. The Court of Appeals affirmed, reaching only the question of concealment of the arrests, which occurred more than five years before petitioner's naturalization and were for distributing handbills, making a speech in a public park, and a breach of the peace.

Held: on the record in this case concerning the arrests, the Government failed to show by clear, unequivocal, and convincing evidence either (1) that facts were suppressed which, if known, would have warranted denial of citizenship, or (2) that their disclosure might have been useful in an investigation possibly leading to the discovery of other facts warranting denial of citizenship. Pp. 350-356.

270 F.2d 179, reversed and cause remanded.

DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

Opinion of the Court by MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, announced by MR. JUSTICE HARLAN.

Petitioner, a native of Hungary, was admitted to citizenship by a decree of the District Court in 1940. Respondent filed a complaint to revoke and set aside that

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order as authorized by § 340(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, 66 Stat. 260, as amended, 68 Stat. 1232, 8 U.S.C. § 1451(a), on the ground that it had been procured "by concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation."1 The complaint stated that petitioner had falsely denied membership in the Communist Party and that, by virtue of that membership, he lacked the requisite attachment to the Constitution, etc., and the intent to renounce foreign allegiance. It also alleged that petitioner had procured his naturalization by concealing and misrepresenting a record of arrests. The District Court cancelled petitioner's naturalization, finding that he had concealed and misrepresented three matters -- his arrests, his membership in the Communist Party, and his allegiance. The Court of Appeals affirmed, reaching only the question of the concealment of the arrests. 270 F.2d 179. The case is here on a writ of certiorari. 362 U.S. 901.

One question, on a form petitioner filled out in connection with his petition for naturalization, asked if he had ever been "arrested or charged with violation of any law of the United States [81 S.Ct. 149] or State or any city ordinance or traffic regulation," and, if so, to give full particulars. To

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this question petitioner answered "no." There was evidence that when he was questioned under oath by an examiner he gave the same answer. There was also evidence that, if his answer has been "yes," the investigative unit of the Immigration Service would check with the authorities at the places where the arrests occurred "to ascertain . . . whether the full facts were stated."

The District Court found that, from 10 to 11 years before petitioner was naturalized, he had been arrested three times as follows:

(1) On July 30, 1929, he was arrested for distributing handbills in New Haven, Connecticut, in violation of an ordinance. He pleaded not guilty and was discharged.

(2) On December 21, 1929, he was arrested for violating the park regulations in New Haven, Connecticut, by making "an oration, harangue, or other public demonstration in New Haven Green, outside of the churches." Petitioner pleaded not guilty. Disposition of the charge is not clear, the notation on the court record reading "Found J.S." which respondent suggests may mean "Judgment Suspended" after a finding of guilt.

(3) On March 11, 1930, he was again arrested in New Haven and this time charged with "General Breach of the Peace." He was found guilty by the City Court and fined $25. He took an appeal, and the records show "nolled April 7, 1930."

Acquisition of American citizenship is a solemn affair. Full and truthful response to all relevant questions required by the naturalization procedure is, of course, to be exacted, and temporizing with the truth must be vigorously discouraged. Failure to give frank, honest, and unequivocal answers to the court when one seeks naturalization is a serious matter. Complete replies are essential so that the qualifications of the applicant or his lack of them may be ascertained. Suppressed or concealed facts, if known, might in and of themselves justify

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denial of citizenship. Or disclosure of the true facts might have led to the discovery of other facts which would justify denial of citizenship.

On the other hand, in view of the grave consequences to the citizen, naturalization decrees are not lightly to be set aside -- the evidence must indeed be "clear, unequivocal, and convincing," and not leave "the issue in doubt." Schneiderman v. United States, 320 U.S. 118, 125, 158; Baumgartner v. United States, 322 U.S. 665, 670. The issue in these cases is so important to the liberty of the citizen that the weight normally given concurrent findings of two lower courts does not preclude reconsideration here, for we deal with "judgments lying close to opinion regarding the whole nature of our government and the duties and immunities of citizenship." Baumgartner v. United States, supra, 671. And see Klapprott v. United States, 335 U.S. 601, 612 and (concurring opinion) 617.

While disclosure of them was properly exacted, the arrests in these cases were not reflections on the character of the man seeking citizenship. The statute in force at the time of his naturalization required that

he has behaved as a person of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States

during the previous five years.2 These arrests were made some years prior to the [81 S.Ct. 150] critical five-year period. They did not, moreover, involve moral turpitude within the meaning of the law. Cf. Jordan v. De George, 341 U.S. 223. No fraudulent conduct was charged. They involved distributing handbills, making a speech, and a breach of the peace. In one instance, he was discharged, in one instance the prosecution was "nolled," and

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in the other (for making a speech in a park in violation of city regulations) he apparently received a suspended sentence. The totality of the circumstances surrounding the offenses charged makes them of extremely slight consequence. Had they involved moral turpitude or acts directed at the Government, had they involved conduct which even peripherally touched types of activity which might disqualify one from citizenship, a different case would be presented. On this record, the nature of these arrests, the crimes charged, and the disposition of the cases do not bring them, inherently, even close to the requirement of "clear, unequivocal, and convincing" evidence that naturalization was illegally procured within the meaning of § 340(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

It is argued, however, that disclosure of the arrests made in New Haven, Connecticut, in the years 1929 and 1930 would have led to a New Haven investigation at which leads to other evidence -- more relevant and material than the arrests -- might have been obtained. His residence in New Haven was from February, 1929, to November, 1930. Since that period was more than five years before his petition for naturalization, the name of his employer at that time was not required by the form prepared by the Service. It is now said, however, that if the arrests had been disclosed and investigated, the Service might well have discovered that petitioner in 1929 was "a district organizer" of the Communist Party in Connecticut. One witness in this denaturalization proceeding testified that such was the fact. An arrest, though by no means probative of any guilt or wrongdoing, is sufficiently significant as an episode in a man's life that it may often be material at least to further enquiry. We do not minimize the importance of that disclosure. In...

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