391 U.S. 194 (1968), 52, Bloom v. Illinois

Docket Nº:No. 52
Citation:391 U.S. 194, 88 S.Ct. 1477, 20 L.Ed.2d 522
Party Name:Bloom v. Illinois
Case Date:May 20, 1968
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 194

391 U.S. 194 (1968)

88 S.Ct. 1477, 20 L.Ed.2d 522

Bloom

v.

Illinois

No. 52

United States Supreme Court

May 20, 1968

Argued January 16-17, 1968

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS

Syllabus

Petitioner was convicted in Illinois of criminal contempt and sentenced to 24 months' imprisonment for willfully petitioning to admit to probate a will falsely prepared and executed after the putative testator's death. His request for a jury trial was refused by the trial court. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed his conviction.

Held:

1. In view of the holdings in United States v. Barnett, 376 U.S. 681 (1964); Cheff v. Schnackenberg, 384 U.S. 373 (1966), and Duncan v. Louisiana, ante, p. 145, the broad rule that all criminal contempts can be constitutionally tried without a jury is reexamined. Pp. 195-198.

2. Criminal contempt is a crime in every essential respect; serious criminal contempts are so nearly like other serious crimes that they are subject to the Constitution's jury trial provisions, and only petty contempts may be tried without honoring demands for trial by jury. The progression of legislative and judicial restrictions on the unfettered power to try contempts summarily reflects this identity, and underlines the need to extend traditional protections to trials for serious contempts. Pp. 201-210.

3. To the extent that summary punishment for criminal contempts preserves the dignity, effectiveness and efficiency of the judicial process, those interests are outweighed by the need to provide the defendant charged with a serious criminal contempt with all the procedural protections deemed fundamental to our judicial system. The power to commit for civil contempt and to punish petty criminal contempts summarily is unaffected. Pp. 208-210.

4. When the legislature has not expressed a judgment as to the seriousness of an offense by fixing a maximum penalty, the best evidence as to the seriousness of the offense is the penalty actually imposed. Accordingly, petitioner, sentenced to a two-year prison term, was constitutionally entitled to a jury trial. See Duncan v. Louisiana, supra. Pp. 210-211.

35 Ill.2d 255, 220 N.E.2d 475, reversed and remanded.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner was convicted in an Illinois state court of criminal contempt and sentenced to imprisonment for 24 months for willfully petitioning to admit to probate a will falsely prepared and executed after the death of the putative testator. Petitioner made a timely demand for jury trial which was refused. Since, in Duncan v. Louisiana, ante, p. 145, the Constitution was held to guarantee the right to jury trial in serious criminal cases in state courts, we must now decide whether it also guarantees the right to jury trial for a criminal contempt punished by a two-year prison term.

I

Whether federal and state courts may try criminal contempt cases without a jury has been a recurring question in this Court. Article III, § 2, of the Constitution provides that "[t]he Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury. . . ." The Sixth Amendment states that, "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury. . . ." The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments forbid both the Federal Government and the States from depriving any person of "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Notwithstanding these provisions, until United States v. Barnett, 376 U.S. 681, rehearing denied, 377 U.S. 973 (1964), the Court consistently upheld the constitutional power of the state and federal courts to punish

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any criminal contempt without a jury trial. Eilenbecker v. District Court of Plymouth County, 134 U.S. 31, 36-39 (1890); [88 S.Ct. 1479] I.C.C. v. Brimson, 154 U.S. 447, 488-489 (1894); In re Debs, 158 U.S. 564, 594-596 (1895); Gompers v. United States, 233 U.S. 604, 610-611 (1914); Green v. United States, 356 U.S. 165, 183-187 (1958).1 These cases construed the Due Process Clause and the otherwise inclusive language of Article III and the Sixth Amendment as permitting summary trials in contempt cases because, at common law, contempt was tried without a jury and because the power of courts to punish for contempt without the intervention of any other agency was considered essential to the proper and effective functioning of the courts and to the administration of Justice.

United States v. Barnett, supra, signaled a possible change of view. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit certified to this Court the question whether there was a right to jury trial in an impending contempt proceeding. Following prior cases, a five-man majority held that there was no constitutional right to jury trial in all contempt cases. Criminal contempt, intrinsically and aside from the particular penalty imposed, was not

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deemed a serious offense requiring the protection of the constitutional guarantees of the right to jury trial. However, the Court put aside, as not raised in the certification or firmly settled by prior cases, the issue whether a severe punishment would itself trigger the right to jury trial, and indicated, without explication, that some members of the Court were of the view that the Constitution limited the punishment which could be imposed where the contempt was tried without a jury. 376 U.S. at 694-695 and n. 12.

Two years later, in Cheff v. Schnackenberg, 384 U.S. 373 (1966), which involved a prison term of six months for contempt of a federal court, the Court rejected the claim that the Constitution guaranteed a right to jury trial in all criminal contempt cases. Contempt did not "of itself" warrant treatment as other than a petty offense; the six months' punishment imposed permitted dealing with the case as a prosecution for "a petty offense, which, under our decisions, does not require a jury trial." 384 U.S. 373, 379-380 (1966). See Callan v. Wilson, 127 U.S. 540 (1888); Schick v. United States, 195 U.S. 65 (1904); District of Columbia v. Clawans, 300 U.S. 617 (1937). It was not necessary in Cheff to consider whether the constitutional guarantees of the right to jury trial applied to a prosecution for a serious contempt. Now, however, because of our holding in Duncan v. Louisiana, supra, that the right to jury trial extends to the States, and, because of Bloom's demand for a jury in this case, we must once again confront the broad rule that all criminal [88 S.Ct. 1480] contempts can be constitutionally tried without a jury. Barnett presaged a reexamination of this doctrine at some later time; that time has now arrived.

In proceeding with this task, we are acutely aware of the responsibility we assume in entertaining challenges to a constitutional principle which is firmly entrenched

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and which has behind it weighty and ancient authority. Our deliberations have convinced us, however, that serious contempts are so nearly like other serious crimes that they are subject to the jury trial provisions of the Constitution, now binding on the States, and that the traditional rule is constitutionally infirm insofar as it permits other than petty contempts to be tried without honoring a demand for a jury trial. We accept the judgment of Barnett and Cheff that criminal contempt is a petty offense unless the punishment makes it a serious one; but, in our view, dispensing with the jury in the trial of contempts subjected to severe punishment represents an unacceptable construction of the Constitution, "an unconstitutional assumption of powers by the [courts] which no lapse of time or respectable array of opinion should make us hesitate to correct." Black & White Taxicab & Transfer Co. v. Brown & Yellow Taxicab & Transfer Co., 276 U.S. 518, 533 (1928) (Holmes, J., dissenting). The rule of our prior cases has strong, though sharply challenged, historical support;2 but neither this circumstance [88 S.Ct. 1481] nor the considerations

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of necessity and efficiency normally offered in defense of the established rule justify denying a jury trial in serious criminal contempt cases. The Constitution

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guarantees the right to jury trial in state court prosecutions for contempt, just as it does for other crimes.

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II.

Criminal contempt is a crime in the ordinary sense; it is a violation of the law, a public wrong which is punishable by fine or imprisonment or both. In the words of Mr. Justice Holmes:

These contempts are infractions of the law, visited with punishment as such. If such acts are not criminal, we are in error as to the most fundamental characteristic of crimes as that word has been understood in English speech.

Gompers v. United States, 233 U.S. 604, 610 (1914).3

Criminally contemptuous conduct may violate other provisions of the criminal law; but even when this is not the case, [88 S.Ct. 1482] convictions for criminal contempt are indistinguishable from ordinary criminal convictions, for their impact on the individual defendant is the same. Indeed, the role of criminal contempt and that of many ordinary criminal laws seem identical -- protection of the institutions of our government and enforcement of their mandates.

Given that criminal contempt is a crime in every fundamental respect, the question is whether it is a crime to which the jury trial provisions of the Constitution

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apply. We hold that it is, primarily because, in terms of those considerations which make the right to jury trial fundamental in criminal cases, there is no substantial difference between serious contempts and other serious crimes. Indeed, in contempt cases, an even more compelling argument can be made for providing a right to jury...

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