384 U.S. 855 (1966), 502, Dennis v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 502
Citation:384 U.S. 855, 86 S.Ct. 1840, 16 L.Ed.2d 973
Party Name:Dennis v. United States
Case Date:June 20, 1966
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 855

384 U.S. 855 (1966)

86 S.Ct. 1840, 16 L.Ed.2d 973

Dennis

v.

United States

No. 502

United States Supreme Court

June 20, 1966

Argued April 20, 1966

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioners were indicted in 1956 under 18 U.S.C. § 371 for conspiring fraudulently to obtain the services of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on behalf of the union of which they were officers or members by filing false affidavits in purported satisfaction of the requirements of § 9(h) of the National Labor Relations Act, as amended. Section 9(h), later repealed, provided that a union could not secure NLRB services unless it had filed with the NLRB so-called non-Communist affidavits of each union officer. The Government alleged that, pursuant to a conspiracy, four of the petitioners, union officials who purported to resign from the Communist Party but in reality retained their Party affiliations, filed the required affidavits during 1949-1955, enabling the union to use the NLRB. Petitioners were convicted, but the Court of Appeals, while sustaining the indictment, reversed on the ground that prejudicial hearsay evidence had been admitted. On retrial, petitioners were again convicted, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Certiorari was granted, limited to the following questions: whether the indictment stated the offense of conspiracy to defraud the United States; whether § 9(h) is constitutional; and whether the trial court erred in denying petitioners' motion for production to the defense of grand jury testimony of prosecution witnesses, or alternatively, for in camera inspection of the grand jury testimony.

Held:

1. The indictment properly charged a conspiracy to defraud the United States under 18 U.S.C. § 371. Pp. 859-864.

(a) The indictment charged concert of action and specified the culpable role of each petitioner. P. 860.

(b) The language of § 371 reaches any conspiracy to impair, obstruct or defeat the functioning of a government agency. P. 861.

(c) Congress regarded the filing of truthful affidavits, not the mere filing of affidavits, as essential to the privilege of using NLRB services. P. 862.

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(d) Although the statutory offense of filing a false statement was part of the conspiracy alleged against petitioners, the entire course of petitioners' alleged conduct constituted a conspiracy to defraud the United States. Bridges v. United States, 346 U.S. 209, distinguished. Pp. 862-863.

2. The claim of unconstitutionality of the statute will not be heard at the behest of the petitioners who have been indicted for conspiracy by means of falsehood and deceit to circumvent the law which they here seek to challenge. Kay v. United States, 303 U.S. 1. Pp. 864-867.

3. Petitioners were entitled to examine the grand jury minutes relating to trial testimony of the prosecution witnesses, and to do so while the witnesses were available for cross-examination. Pp. 868-875.

(a) In cases of "particularized need" defense counsel may have access to relevant portions of grand jury testimony of a trial witness. Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. v. United States, 360 U.S. 395. P. 870.

(b) Petitioners have made a substantial showing of "particularized need," and the Government concedes that the importance of preserving secrecy of the grand jury minutes here is minimal. Pp. 871-874.

(c) While the practice of in camera inspection of the grand jury minutes by the trial judge, followed by production to defense counsel if the judge finds inconsistencies, may be useful in enabling the judge to rule on a motion for production of grand jury testimony, it is not sufficient to protect a defendant's rights where he has demonstrated a "particularized need." P. 874.

(d) The determination of what may be useful to the defense can effectively be made only by counsel. The trial judge's function in this respect is limited to deciding whether a case has been made for production and to supervise the process. P. 875.

346 F.2d 10, reversed and remanded.

Page 857

FORTAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE FORTAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The six petitioners and eight others were indicted in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado on a charge of violating the general conspiracy statute, 18 U.S.C. § 371 (1964 ed.).1 The single-count indictment alleged a conspiracy fraudulently to obtain the services of the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers by filing false affidavits in purported satisfaction of the requirements of § 9(h) of the National Labor Relations Act, as amended by the Taft-Hartley Act, 61 Stat. 146.

Section 9(h), which was later repealed,2 provided that labor unions could not secure Labor Board investigation of employee representation or the issuance of a complaint unless there was on file with the Board so-called

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non-Communist affidavits of each officer of the union and its parent organization. The statute required that these affidavits attest that the officer is not a member of the Communist Party or

affiliated with such party, and that he does not believe in, and is not a member of or supports any organization that believes in or teaches, the overthrow of the United States Government by force or by any illegal or unconstitutional methods.

Four of the six petitioners -- Dennis, Dichter, Travis and Wilson -- were officers of the union. Each is alleged to have filed false non-Communist affidavits. Petitioners Sanderson and Skinner were at relevant times, union members but not officers. They are charged with participation in the conspiracy. All were alleged [86 S.Ct. 1843] to be "members of and affiliated with the Communist Party."

The indictment was returned in 1956. At the first trial, petitioners and others were convicted. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit sustained the validity of the indictment, but reversed the judgments on the ground that prejudicial hearsay evidence had been admitted in evidence. 302 F.2d 5.

On retrial, the petitioners were again convicted, and each was sentenced to three years' imprisonment and fined $2,000. This time, the Court of Appeals affirmed. 346 F.2d 10. We granted certiorari (382 U.S. 915) limited to three questions:

1. Whether the indictment states the offense of conspiracy to defraud the United States;

2. Whether, in the comparative light of American Communications Ass'n. v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382, and United States v. Brown, 381 U.S. 437, Section 9(h) of the Taft-Hartley Act is constitutional;

3. Whether the trial court erred in denying petitioners' motions for the production, to the defense or the Court, of grand jury testimony of prosecution witnesses.

Page 859

Essentially, the Government's case is that, prior to June, 1949, the union and the Communist Party opposed compliance with § 9(h); that, in 1949, the Communist Party and the union, as a consequence of discussions participated in by petitioners and others, determined that preservation of the Party's allegedly dominating position in the union, and the union's welfare itself, required that the union officials take steps to secure the Board's services for the union; and that, in order to accomplish this purpose, the union's officers were nominally to resign from the Communist Party and to file the non-Communist affidavits required by § 9(h). Pursuant to this plan, it is alleged, the union leadership voted to comply with § 9(h). Those officers who were Party members, including four of the petitioners herein, purported to resign from the Party.3 They then proceeded at various dates between August 1949 and February 1955, to file with the Labor Board the required non-Communist affidavits. This action, it is contended, was cynical and fraudulent, and petitioners' affidavits were false. In reality, it is claimed, petitioners' Communist Party affiliations remained unaffected, as did the Party's domination of the union's affairs. The union thereafter proceeded, on several occasions, to utilize the Board's services, a privilege which it had obtained as a result of these assertedly fraudulent acts.

I

We first discuss the question, considered both in the District Court and in the Court of Appeals,4 whether the

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indictment properly charged a conspiracy to defraud the United States under 18 U.S.C. § 371. We agree that indictments under the broad language of the general conspiracy statute must be scrutinized carefully as to each of the charged defendants because of the possibility, inherent in a criminal conspiracy charge, that its wide net may ensnare the innocent as well as the culpable. See Krulewitch v. United States, 336 U.S. 440, 445-458 (concurring opinion); United States v. Bufalino, 285 F.2d 408, 417-418 (C.A.2d Cir. 1960). [86 S.Ct. 1844] But, in the present case, we conclude that the indictment for conspiracy was proper as to each of the petitioners.

Four of the petitioners -- those who filed the affidavits alleged to be false -- presumably could have been indicted for the substantive offense of making false statements as to a "matter within the jurisdiction of" the Board, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001 (1964 ed.). But the essence of their alleged conduct was not merely the individual filing of false affidavits. It was also the alleged concert of action -- the common decision and common activity for a common purpose. The conspiracy was not peripheral or incidental. It lay at the core of the alleged offense. It is the entire conspiracy, and not merely the filing of false affidavits, which is the gravamen of the charge. This conspiratorial program included, as prime factors, not only those who...

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