Beck v. Washington, 40

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtCLARK
Citation8 L.Ed.2d 98,82 S.Ct. 955,369 U.S. 541
PartiesDavid D. BECK, Petitioner, v. WASHINGTON
Docket NumberNo. 40,40
Decision Date14 May 1962

See 370 U.S. 965, 82 S.Ct. 1575.

Mr. Justice Douglas, Mr. Justice Black, and Mr. Chief Justice Warren, dissented.

Charles S. Burdell, Seattle, Wash., for petitioner.

James E. Kennedy, Seattle, Wash., for respondent.

Mr. Justice CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner David D. Beck contends that his conviction of grand larceny in the Superior Court of the State of Washington for King County is invalid under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. This contention is based primarily on what is characterized as voluminous and continuous adverse publicity circulated by news media in the vicinity of Seattle, Washington, where he was indicted and tried. Specifically he claims, inter alia, that the grand jury was unfairly impaneled and instructed, that the prosecutor acted improperly before the grand jury, and that his motions for a change of venue and for continuances were erroneously denied. The judges of the Supreme Court of Washington divided equally in review, 56 Wash.2d 474, 349 P.2d 387, 353 P.2d 429, leaving petitioner's conviction undisturbed. We granted certiorari limited to the above contentions, 365 U.S. 866, 81 S.Ct. 900, 5 L.Ed.2d 858, and we now affirm the conviction.


In addition to challenges to the grand and petit juries, petitioner prior to the selection of the petit jury made five motions on the ground of bias and prejudice arising from the publicity, viz., one to quash the indictment, three for continuances ranging from one month to an indefinite period, and one for a change of venue to Snohomish or Whatcom County. Petitioner's counsel supported his factual contentions in regard to these various motions by his personal affidavits as well as by photostats of stories appearing in local newspapers and national magazines. We shall now summarize the highlights of the publicity set forth by the petitioner in his moving papers and exhibits.

The Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field of the United States Senate began its investigation on February 26, 1957. In early March the Chairman of the Committee announced that the Committee had 'produced 'rather conclusive' evidence of a tie-up between West Coast Teamsters and underworld bosses to monopolize vice in Portland, Ore.' The announcement also stated that 'Teamsters' President Dave Beck and Brewster (also a Teamster leader) will be summoned for questioning on a charge that they schemed to control Oregon's law enforcement machinery from a local level on up to the governor's chair.'

On March 22 the Committee was quoted in the newspapers as stating '$250,000 had been taken from Teamster funds * * * and used for Beck's personal benefit.' Petitioner appeared before the Committee on March 26, and the newspapers reported: 'BECK TAKES 5TH AMENDMENT President of Teamsters 'Very Definitely' Thinks Records Might Incriminate Him.' Television cameras were permitted at the hearings. One Seattle TV station ran an 8 3/4-hour 'live' broadcast of the session on March 27, and films of this session were shown by various TV stations in the Seattle-Tacoma area. The April 12 issue of the U.S. News & World Report ran a caption: 'Take a look around Seattle these days, and you find what a Senate inquiry can do to a top labor leader in his own home town.' On April 26 the county prosecutor announced that a special grand jury would be impaneled in Seattle 'to investigate possible misuse of Teamsters Union funds by international president Dave Beck * * *.' It was later announced that former Mayor Devin of Seattle was to be appointed Chief Special Prosecutor. On May 3 petitioner was indicted by a federal grand jury at Tacoma for income tax evasion. The announcement of this action was of course in front-page headlines. Five days later the petitioner was again called as a witness before the Committee in Washington. News stories on his appearance concentrated on his pleading of the Fifth Amendment 60 times during the hearings. Other stories emanating from the Committee hearings were featured intermittently, and on May 20, the day of the convening of the special grand jury, the Chairman of the Senate Committee announced that 'the Committee has not convicted Mr. Beck of any crime, although it is my belief that he has committed many criminal offenses.' The publicity continued to some degree after the grand jury had been convened and during the three-week period in which the prosecutors were gathering up documentary evidence through the use of grand jury subpoenas. Among other stories that appeared was one of June 4 stating that at the Committee hearings 'Beck, Jr., who even refused to say whether he knew his father, took shelter behind the (fifth) amendment 130 times, following the example of Beck, Sr., who refused to answer 210 times in three appearances before the committee.' The indictment in this case was returned by the special grand jury on July 12 and of course received banner headlines. Intermittent publicity continued, some from Washington, D.C., until August 28 when a federal grand jury indicted petitioner and others on additional income tax evasion counts. The co-conspirators named in this latter indictment were then called before the Committee in Washing- ton, and these hearings, which were held on November 5, brought on additional publicity. On November 12 Dave Beck, Jr., went to trial on other larceny charges and was convicted on November 23, a Saturday. The state papers gave that event considerable coverage. The trial of petitioner in this case began on December 2 and continued until his conviction on December 14.


Ever since Hurtado v. California, 110 U.S. 516, 4 S.Ct. 292, 28 L.Ed. 232 (1884), this Court has consistently held that there is no federal constitutional impediment to dispensing entirely with the grand jury in state prosecutions. The State of Washington abandoned its mandatory grand jury practice some 50 years ago.1 Since that time prosecutions have been instituted on informations filed by the prosecutor, on many occasions without even a prior judicial determination of 'probable cause'—a procedure which has likewise had approval here in such cases as Ocampo v. United States, 234 U.S. 91, 34 S.Ct. 712, 58 L.Ed. 1231 (1914), and Lem Woon v. Oregon, 229 U.S. 586, 33 S.Ct. 783, 57 L.Ed. 1340 (1913). Grand juries in Washington are convened only on special occasions and for specific purposes. The grand jury in this case, the eighth called in King County in 40 years, was summoned primarily to investigate circumstances which had been the subject of the Senate Committee hearings.

In his attempts before trial to have the indictment set aside petitioner did not contend that any particular grand juror was prejudiced or biased. Rather, he asserted that the judge impaneling the grand jury had breached his duty to ascertain on voir dire whether any prospective juror had been influenced by the adverse publicity and that this error had been compounded by his failure to ade- quately instruct the grand jury concerning bias and prejudice. It may be that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires the State, having once resorted to a grand jury procedure, to furnish an unbiased grand jury. Compare Lawn v. United States, 355 U.S. 339, 349—350, 78 S.Ct. 311, 317—318, 2 L.Ed.2d 321 (1958); Costello v. United States, 350 U.S. 359, 363, 76 S.Ct. 406, 408, 100 L.Ed. 397 (1956); Hoffman v. United States, 341 U.S. 479, 485, 71 S.Ct. 814, 817, 95 L.Ed. 1118 (1951). But we find that it is not necessary for us to determine this question; for even if due process would require a State to furnish an unbiased body once it resorted to grand jury procedure—a question upon which we do not remotely intimate any view—we have concluded that Washington, so far as is shown by the record, did so in this case.

Petitioner's appearance before the Senate Committee was current news of high national interest and quite normally was widely publicized throughout the Nation, including his home city of Seattle and the State of Washington. His answers to and conduct before the Committee disclosed the possibility that he had committed local offenses within the jurisdiction of King County, Washington, against the laws of that State. In the light of those disclosures the King County authorities were duty-bound to investigate and, if the State's laws had been violated, to prosecute the offenders. It appears that documentary evidence—in the hands of petitioner's union—was necessary to a complete investigation. The only method available to secure such documents was by grand jury process, and it was decided therefore to impanel a grand jury. This Washington was free to do.

Twenty-three prospective grand jurors were called. The trial judge explained, as is customary in such matters, that they had been called primarily to investigate possible crimes committed in King County by officers of the Teamsters Union which had been the subject of the Senate Committee hearings. In impaneling the grand jury the judge, after determining their statutory qualifications, businesses, union affiliations and the like, asked each of the prospective jurors: 'Is there anything about sitting on this grand jury that might embarrass you at all?' In answer to this or the question of whether they were conscious of any prejudice or bias, which was asked whenever previous answers suggested a need for further inquiry, two admitted they were prejudiced by the publicity and were excused. Another stated that whether he was prejudiced was 'pretty hard to answer,' and he, too, was excused. In addition three persons who were or had been members of unions that were affiliated with petitioner's...

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