Alford v. United States, No. 370

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSTONE
Citation282 U.S. 687,51 S.Ct. 218,75 L.Ed. 624
Decision Date24 February 1931
Docket NumberNo. 370
PartiesALFORD v. UNITED STATES

282 U.S. 687
51 S.Ct. 218
75 L.Ed. 624
ALFORD

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 370.
Argued Jan. 6, 1931.
Decided Feb. 24, 1931.

Page 688

Messrs. Leo R. Friedman and Thomas M. Foley, both of San Francisco, Cal., for petitioner.

Mr. Bentley W. Warren, of Boston, Mass., for the United States.

Mr. Justice STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner was convicted in the District Court for southern California of using the mails to defraud in violation of section 215 of the Criminal Code (18 USCA § 338). This Court granted certiorari, 282 U. S. 826, 51 S. Ct. 77, 75 L. Ed. —, October 20, 1930, to review a judgment of affirmance by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which upheld certain rulings of the trial court upon the evidence. 41 F.(2d) 157.

In the course of the trial the government called as a witness a former employee of petitioner. On direct examination he gave damaging testimony with respect to various transactions of accused, including conversations with the witness when others were not present, and statement of accused to salesmen under his direction, whom the witness did not identify. Upon cross-examination questions seeking to elicit the witness's place of residence were excluded on the government's objection that they were immaterial and not proper cross-examination. Counsel for the defense insisted that the questions were

Page 689

proper cross-examination, and that the jury was entitled to know 'who the witness is, where he lives and what his business is.' Relevant excerpts of the record are printed in the margin.1

Page 690

Later, the jury having been excused, counsel for the defense urged, as an 'additional' ground for asking the excluded questions, that he had been informed that the witness was then in the custody of the federal authorities, and that such fact might be brought out on cross-examination 'for the purpose of showing whatever bias or prejudice he may have.' But the court adhered to its previous rulings, saying that if the witness had been convicted of a felony that fact might be proved, but not that he was detained in custody.

The Court of Appeals, after stating that it is customary to allow cross-examination of a witness with reference to

Page 691

his place of residence, upheld the trial court, saying, page 160 of 41 F.(2d):

'The purpose of such evidence is to identify the witness and to some extent given proper background for the interpretation of his testimony. In this case, however, the counsel indicated his purpose to use the information for the purpose of discrediting the witness. It is part of the obligation of a trial judge to protect witnesses against evidence tending to discredit the witness unless such evidence is reasonably called for by exigencies of the case. A witness is not on trial and has no means of protecting himself. Here it was evident that the counsel for the appellant desired to discredict the witness, without, so far as is shown, in any way connecting the expected answer with a matter on trial. If it had been contended that the witness was in custody because of his participation in the transaction with which the appellant was charged, and if it was sought to show that he was testifying under some promise of immunity, it would undoubtedly have been prejudicial error to have excluded such testimony; but counsel avowed no such purpose, and indicated that the proposed question was merely in pursuit of a fishing expedition by which he hoped to discredit the witness. The witness was examined at great; length concerning his relation to the appellant and great latitude was accorded in that examination.'

Cross-examination of a witness is a matter of right. The Ottawa, 3 Wall. 268, 271, 18 L. Ed. 165. Its permissible purposes, among others, are that the witness may be identified with his community so that independent testimony may be sought and offered of his reputation for veracity in his own neighborhood, cf. Khan v. Zemansky, 59 Cal.App. 324, 327ff, 210 P. 529; 3 Wigmore, Evidence (2d Ed.) § 1368 I. (1)(b); that the jury may interpret his testimony in the light refiected upon it by knowledge of his environment, Kirschner v. State, 9 Wis. 140; Wilbur v. Flood, 16 Mich.

Page 692

40, 93 Am. Dec. 203; Hollingsworth v. State, 53 Ark. 387, 14 S. W. 41; People v. White, 251 Ill, 67, 72ff., 95 N. E. 2036; Wallace v. State, 41 Fla. 547, 574ff., 26 So. 713; and that facts may be brought out tending to discredit the witness by showing that his testimony in chief was untrue or biased, Tla-koo-yel-lee v. United States, 167 U. S. 274, 17 S. Ct. 855, 42 L. Ed. 166; King v. United States (C. C. A.) 112 F. 988; Farkas v. United States (C. C. A.) 2 F.(2d) 644; see Furlong v. United States (C. C. A.) 10 F.(2d) 492, 494.

Counsel often cannot know in advance what pertinent facts may be elicited on cross-examination. For that reason it is necessarily exploratory; and the rul th at the examiner must indicate the purpose of his inquiry does not, in general, apply. Knapp v. Wing, 72 Vt. 334, 340, 47 A. 1075; Martin v. Elden, 32 Ohio St. 282, 289. It is the essence of a fair trial that reasonable latitude be given the cross-examiner, even though he is unable to state to the court what fact a reasonable cross-examination might develop. Prejudice ensues from a denial of the opportunity to place the witness in his proper setting and put the weight of...

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1169 practice notes
  • United States v. Fatico, No. 76-CR-81.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • December 1, 1977
    ...most if not of all the States composing the Union." Mr. Justice Stone, writing for the Court in Alford 441 F. Supp. 1296 v. United States, 282 U.S. 687, 692, 51 S.Ct. 218, 75 L.Ed. 624, declared that the right of cross-examination is "one of the safeguards essential to a fair Id., at 404, 8......
  • Hagans v. Ellerman & Bucknall Steamship Company, No. 13881
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • May 17, 1963
    ...of cross-examination. That right is fundamental, limited only by the well defined restraints to curb its abuse. Alford v. United States, 282 U.S. 687, 51 S.Ct. 218, 75 L.Ed. 624 (1931); United States v. 3.544 Acres of Land, etc., 147 F.2d 596, 601 (3 Cir. 1945) and McGraw-Edison Co. v. Cent......
  • U.S. v. Pedroza, Nos. 136
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • December 11, 1984
    ...that the scope and extent of cross-examination are generally within the sound discretion of the trial court. Alford v. United States, 282 U.S. 687, 694, 51 S.Ct. 218, 220, 75 L.Ed. 624 (1931); United States v. Cambindo-Valencia, 609 F.2d 603, 630 (2d Cir.1979), cert. denied, 446 U.S. 940, 1......
  • United States v. Leonard, No. 71-1503
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • January 31, 1974
    ...be given broad latitude in their effort to impeach the credibility of government witnesses on cross-examination. Alford v. United States, 282 U.S. 687, 51 S.Ct. 218, 75 L.Ed. 624 (1931). The district court's ruling and instruction severely circumscribed defense counsel in this regard and th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1169 cases
  • United States v. Fatico, No. 76-CR-81.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • December 1, 1977
    ...most if not of all the States composing the Union." Mr. Justice Stone, writing for the Court in Alford 441 F. Supp. 1296 v. United States, 282 U.S. 687, 692, 51 S.Ct. 218, 75 L.Ed. 624, declared that the right of cross-examination is "one of the safeguards essential to a fair Id., at 404, 8......
  • Hagans v. Ellerman & Bucknall Steamship Company, No. 13881
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • May 17, 1963
    ...of cross-examination. That right is fundamental, limited only by the well defined restraints to curb its abuse. Alford v. United States, 282 U.S. 687, 51 S.Ct. 218, 75 L.Ed. 624 (1931); United States v. 3.544 Acres of Land, etc., 147 F.2d 596, 601 (3 Cir. 1945) and McGraw-Edison Co. v. Cent......
  • U.S. v. Pedroza, Nos. 136
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • December 11, 1984
    ...that the scope and extent of cross-examination are generally within the sound discretion of the trial court. Alford v. United States, 282 U.S. 687, 694, 51 S.Ct. 218, 220, 75 L.Ed. 624 (1931); United States v. Cambindo-Valencia, 609 F.2d 603, 630 (2d Cir.1979), cert. denied, 446 U.S. 940, 1......
  • United States v. Leonard, No. 71-1503
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • January 31, 1974
    ...be given broad latitude in their effort to impeach the credibility of government witnesses on cross-examination. Alford v. United States, 282 U.S. 687, 51 S.Ct. 218, 75 L.Ed. 624 (1931). The district court's ruling and instruction severely circumscribed defense counsel in this regard and th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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