385 U.S. 293 (1966), 32, Hoffa v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 32
Citation:385 U.S. 293, 87 S.Ct. 408, 17 L.Ed.2d 374
Party Name:Hoffa v. United States
Case Date:December 12, 1966
Court:United States Supreme Court

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385 U.S. 293 (1966)

87 S.Ct. 408, 17 L.Ed.2d 374



United States

No. 32

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 12, 1966

Argued October 13, 1966




Petitioners were convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 1503 for endeavoring to bribe members of a jury in a previous trial of petitioner Hoffa, for violating the Taft-Hartley Act, which resulted in a hung jury. Substantial information and evidence were given in the prosecution by Partin, a paid government informer, who, throughout the Taft-Hartley trial, was repeatedly in Hoffa's company -- in Hoffa's hotel suite, the hotel lobby, and elsewhere. The Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions, and this Court granted certiorari on the question whether the use of evidence furnished by the informer rendered the convictions invalid.


1. No rights under the Fourth Amendment were violated by the failure of Partin to disclose his role as a government informer. When Hoffa made incriminating statements to or in the presence of Partin, his invitee, he relied not on the security of the hotel room, but on his misplaced confidence that Partin would not reveal his wrongdoing. Pp. 300-303.

2. Hoffa's conversations with Partin, being entirely voluntary, involved no Fifth Amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination. Pp. 303-304.

3. There was no violation of any Sixth Amendment right to counsel in this case. Pp. 304-310.

(a) A Sixth Amendment violation resulting from Partin's reporting to the Government on the activities of Hoffa's counsel in preparing the defense of the Taft-Hartley trial might have invalidated any conviction in that trial. But the conviction in the subsequent trial for the different offense of endeavoring to bribe jurors was not rendered invalid by the admission of Hoffa's incriminating statements heard by Partin, none of which were made in the presence of counsel or in connection with the legitimate defense of the Taft-Hartley trial. Caldwell v. United States,

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92 U.S.App.D.C. 355, 205 F.2d 879; Coplon v. United States, 89 U.S.App.D.C. 103, 191 F.2d 749, distinguished. Pp. 306-309.

(b) The Government was not obliged to arrest Hoffa when it first had probable cause to do so, though his admissions without counsel after arrest might have been barred, since law enforcement officers have no duty to halt a crime investigation when they have minimum evidence to establish probable cause. Pp. 309-310.

4. The use of a secret informer is not per se unconstitutional, and the use of Partin in this case did not violate due process requirements, his veracity having been fully subject to the safeguards of cross-examination and the trial court's instructions to the jury. Pp. 310-312.

349 F.2d 20, affirmed.

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

Over a period of several weeks in the late autumn of 1962, there took place in a federal court in Nashville, Tennessee, a trial by jury in which James Hoffa was charged with violating a provision of the Taft-Hartley Act. That trial, known in the present record as the Test Fleet trial, ended with a hung jury. The petitioners now before us -- James Hoffa, Thomas Parks, Larry Campbell, and Ewing King -- were tried and convicted

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in 1964 for endeavoring to bribe members of that [87 S.Ct. 410] jury.1 The convictions were affirmed by the Court of Appeals.2 A substantial element in the Government's, proof that led to the convictions of these four petitioners was contributed by a witness named Edward Partin, who testified to several incriminating statements which he said petitioners Hoffa and King had made in his presence during the course of the Test Fleet trial. Our grant of certiorari was limited to the single issue of whether the Government's use in this case of evidence supplied by Partin operated to invalidate these convictions. 382 U.S. 1024.

The specific question before us, as framed by counsel for the petitioners, is this:

Whether evidence obtained by the Government by means of deceptively placing a secret informer in the quarters and councils of a defendant during one criminal trial so violates the defendant's Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights that suppression of such evidence is required in a subsequent trial of the same defendant on a different charge.

At the threshold, the Government takes issue with the way this question is worded, refusing to concede that it "`placed' the informer anywhere, much less that it did so `deceptively.'" In the view we take of the matter, however, a resolution of this verbal controversy is unnecessary to a decision of the constitutional issues before us. The basic facts are clear enough, and a lengthy discussion of the detailed minutiae to which a large portion of the briefs and oral arguments was addressed would serve only to divert attention from the real issues before us.

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The controlling facts can be briefly stated. The Test Fleet trial, in which James Hoffa was the sole individual defendant, was in progress between October 22 and December 23, 1962, in Nashville, Tennessee. James Hoffa was president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. During the course of the trial, he occupied a three-room suite in the Andrew Jackson Hotel in Nashville. One of his constant companions throughout the trial was the petitioner King, president of the Nashville local of the Teamsters Union. Edward Partin, a resident of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and a local Teamsters Union official there, made repeated visits to Nashville during the period of the trial. On these visits he frequented the Hoffa hotel suite, and was continually in the company of Hoffa and his associates, including King, in and around the hotel suite, the hotel lobby, the courthouse, and elsewhere in Nashville. During this period, Partin made frequent reports to a federal agent named Sheridan concerning conversations he said Hoffa and King had had with him and with each other, disclosing endeavors to bribe members of the Test Fleet jury. Partin's reports and his subsequent testimony at the petitioners' trial unquestionably contributed, directly or indirectly, to the convictions of all four of the petitioners.3

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[87 S.Ct. 411] The chain of circumstances which led Partin to be in Nashville during the Test Fleet trial extended back at least to September of 1962. At that time, Partin was in jail in Baton Rouge on a state criminal charge. He was

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also under a federal indictment for embezzling union funds, and other indictments for state offenses were pending against him. Between that time and Partin's initial visit to Nashville on October 22, he was released on bail on the state criminal charge, and proceedings under the federal indictment were postponed. On October 8, Partin telephoned Hoffa in Washington, D.C., to discuss local union matters and Partin's difficulties with the authorities. In the course of this conversation, Partin asked if he could see Hoffa to confer about these problems, and Hoffa acquiesced. Partin again called Hoffa on October 18, and arranged to meet him in Nashville. During this period, Partin also consulted on several occasions with federal law enforcement agents, who told him that Hoffa might attempt to tamper with the Test Fleet jury and asked him to be on the lookout in Nashville for such attempts, and to report to the federal authorities any evidence of wrongdoing that he discovered. Partin agreed to do so.

After the Test Fleet trial was completed, Partin's wife received four monthly installment payments of $300 from government funds, and the state and federal charges against Partin were either dropped or not actively pursued.

Reviewing these circumstances in detail, the Government insists the fair inference is that Partin went to Nashville on his own initiative to discuss union business and his own problems with Hoffa, that Partin ultimately cooperated [87 S.Ct. 412] closely with federal authorities, only after he discovered evidence of jury tampering in the Test Fleet trial, that the payments to Partin's wife were simply in partial reimbursement of Partin's subsequent out-of-pocket expenses, and that the failure to prosecute Partin on the state and federal charges had no necessary connection with his services as an informer. The findings of the trial court support this version of the

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facts,4 and these findings were accepted by the Court of Appeals as "supported by substantial evidence." 349 F.2d at 36. But whether or not the Government "placed" Partin with Hoffa in Nashville during the Test Fleet trial, we proceed upon the premise that Partin was a government informer from the time he first arrived in Nashville on October 22, and that the Government compensated him for his services as such. It is upon that premise that we consider the constitutional issues presented.

Before turning to those issues, we mention an additional preliminary contention of the Government. The

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petitioner Hoffa was the only individual defendant in the Test Fleet case, and Partin had conversations during the Test Fleet trial only with him and with the petitioner King. So far as appears, Partin never saw either of the other two petitioners during that period. Consequently, the Government argues that, of the four petitioners, only Hoffa has standing to raise a claim that his Sixth Amendment right to counsel in the Test Fleet trial was impaired, and only he and King have standing with respect to the other constitutional claims. Cf. Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 487-488, 491-492; Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257, 259-267. It is clear, on the other hand, that Partin's reports to the agent Sheridan uncovered leads that made possible the development of evidence against petitioners Parks and Campbell. But we need not pursue the nuances of these "standing"...

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