442 U.S. 500 (1979), 78-546, United States v. Helstoski

Docket Nº:No. 78-546
Citation:442 U.S. 500, 99 S.Ct. 2445, 61 L.Ed.2d 30
Party Name:United States v. Helstoski
Case Date:June 18, 1979
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 500

442 U.S. 500 (1979)

99 S.Ct. 2445, 61 L.Ed.2d 30

United States

v.

Helstoski

No. 78-546

United States Supreme Court

June 18, 1979

Argued March 27, 1979

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner, then a Member of Congress, was indicted in 1976 for conspiring to solicit and accept, and for soliciting and accepting, bribes in return for being influenced in the performance of official acts, namely, the introduction of certain private bills in the House of Representatives. He moved in District Court to dismiss the indictment on the ground, inter alia, that the indictment violated the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution because the grand jury had heard evidence of legislative acts, but the motion was denied. Thereafter, he petitioned the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for a writ of mandamus directing the District Court to dismiss the indictment. The court declined to issue the writ, holding that the indictment did not violate the Speech or Debate Clause.

Held: Mandamus was not the appropriate means of challenging the validity of the indictment on the ground that it violated the Speech or Debate Clause. Direct appeal to the Court of Appeals was available, and was the proper course. Pp. 505-508.

(a) Once the motion to dismiss the indictment was denied, there was nothing further petitioner could do under the Speech or Debate Clause in the trial court to prevent the trial, and an appeal of the ruling was clearly available. Cf. Abney v. United States, 431 U.S. 651. Pp. 506-507.

(b) The Speech or Debate Clause was designed to protect Congressmen "not only from the consequences of litigation's results, but also from the burden of defending themselves." Dombrowski v. Eastland, 387 U.S. 82, 85. Pp. 507-508.

(c) If a Member of Congress

is to avoid exposure to [being questioned for acts done in either House], and thereby enjoy the full protection of the [Speech or Debate] [99 S.Ct. 2446] Clause, his . . . challenge to the indictment must be reviewable before . . . exposure [to trial] occurs.

Abney, supra at 662. P. 508.

(d) Petitioner cannot be viewed as being penalized for failing to anticipate the decision in Abney, since the controlling law of the Third

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Circuit was announced at the time of the District Court's order denying dismissal of the indictment, see United States v. DiSilvio, 520 F.2d 247, and the holding in Abney did no more than affirm the correctness of that holding. P. 508.

576 F.2d 511, affirmed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 508. POWELL, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

BURGER, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question in this case is whether mandamus is an appropriate means of challenging the validity of an indictment of a Member of Congress on the ground that it violates the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution.1 The Court of Appeals declined to issue the writ. We affirm.

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I

Petitioner Helstoski served in the United States Congress from 1965 through 1976 as a Representative from New Jersey. In 1974, the Department of Justice began investigating reported political corruption, including allegations that aliens had paid money for the introduction and processing of private bills which would suspend the application of the immigration laws so as to allow them to remain in this country.

In June, 1976, a grand jury returned a 12-count indictment charging Helstoski and others with various criminal acts. Only the first four counts are involved in this case. The first count charged that Helstoski and others had conspired to violate 18 U.S.C. § 201(c)(1) by accepting money in return for Helstoski's "being influenced in the performance of official acts, to-wit: the introduction of private bills in the United States House of Representatives." The charge recited 16 overt acts, 4 of which referred to the actual introduction of private bills; a 5th referred to an agreement to introduce a private bill. The entire conspiracy was charged as a violation of the general conspiracy statute, 18 U.S.C. § 371.

Counts II, III, and IV were substantive counts charging violations of 18 U.S.C. §§ 201(c)(1) and (2):

Whoever, being a public official[,] directly or indirectly, corruptly asks, demands, exacts, solicits, seeks, accepts, receives, or agrees to receive anything of value for himself or for any other person or entity, in return for:

(1) being influenced in his performance of any official act; or

(2) being influenced to commit or aid in committing, or to collude in, or allow, any fraud, or make opportunity for the commission of any fraud on the United States;

* * * *

Shall be fined . . . or imprisoned.

(Emphasis added.)

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"Public official" and "official act" are defined in 18 U.S.C. § 201:

(a) For the purpose of this section:

"public official" means Member of Congress . . . ; and

* * * *

[99 S.Ct. 2447] "official act" means any decision or action on any question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy, which may at any time be pending, or which may by law be brought before any public official, in his official capacity, or in his place of trust or profit.

Each count charged that Helstoski, acting through his legislative aide, had solicited money from aliens in return for "being influenced in the performance of official acts, to-wit: the introduction of private bills in the United States House of Representatives on behalf of" the aliens. Essentially, the charges against Helstoski parallel those dealt with in United States v. Johnson, 383 U.S. 169 (1966), and United States v. Brewster, 408 U.S. 501 (1972).

Each count also charged that Helstoski, again acting through his aide, had accepted a bribe

in return for his being influenced in the performance of official acts, to-wit: the introduction of private bills in the United States House of Representatives on behalf of

the aliens. Finally, each count charged that a private bill had been introduced on a particular date.

Helstoski neither appeared before nor submitted material to the particular grand jury that returned the indictment. The prosecutor provided that grand jury with transcripts of most, but not all, of the testimony of witnesses, including Helstoski, before eight other grand juries.2 The United States Attorney explained that, to avoid any possible prejudice to Helstoski, he had not told the ninth grand jury of Helstoski's invocation of his privilege under the Fifth Amendment. Moreover, he

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sought to avoid any challenge resulting from the fact that the District Judge had appeared before one grand jury to rule on Helstoski's claim of that privilege.

Helstoski moved to dismiss the indictment, contending that the grand jury process had been abused and that the indictment violated the Speech or Debate Clause. He supported his allegation of abuse of the grand jury by characterizing the eight grand juries as "discovery tools." The effect, he contended, was to permit the prosecutor to select the information presented to the indicting grand jury and to deprive that grand jury of evidence of the demeanor of witnesses, especially that of Helstoski himself.

District Judge Meanor denied the motion after examining a transcript of the evidence presented to the indicting grand jury. He held that there had been no such abuse to justify invalidating the indictment. He found that most of the material not submitted to the indicting grand jury "was either prejudicial to the defendants, or neither inculpating nor exculpating in nature." He also found that the testimony of two grand jury witnesses should have been presented to the indicting grand jury, and concluded that Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), required that the Government provide Helstoski with transcripts of their testimony. Judge Meanor also held that the Speech or Debate Clause did not require dismissal.

Approximately three months later, in June, 1977, Helstoski petitioned the Court of Appeals for a writ of mandamus directing the District Court to dismiss the...

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