Christopher Wilson v. United States No 759 Christopher Wilson v. United States No 760 Christopher Wilson v. United States No 788 788, Nos. 759

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtHughes
Citation221 U.S. 361,31 S.Ct. 538,55 L.Ed. 771
PartiesCHRISTOPHER C. WILSON, Plff. in Err., v. UNITED STATES. NO 759. CHRISTOPHER C. WILSON, Appt., v. UNITED STATES. NO 760. CHRISTOPHER C. WILSON, Appt., v. UNITED STATES. NO 788. , and 788
Docket Number760,Nos. 759
Decision Date15 May 1911

221 U.S. 361
31 S.Ct. 538
55 L.Ed. 771
CHRISTOPHER C. WILSON, Plff. in Err.,

v.

UNITED STATES. NO 759. CHRISTOPHER C. WILSON, Appt., v. UNITED STATES. NO 760. CHRISTOPHER C. WILSON, Appt., v. UNITED STATES. NO 788.

Nos. 759, 760, and 788.
Argued March 2 and 3, 1911.
Decided May 15, 1911.

[Syllabus from pages 361-363 intentionally omitted]

Page 363

Messrs. John B. Stanchfield, Louis S. Levy, and William M. Parke for plaintiff in error and appellant.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 363-365 intentionally omitted]

Page 365

Solicitor General Lehmann and Mr. Henry E. Colton for defendant in error and appellee.

Page 366

Mr. Justice Hughes delivered the opinion of the court:

The three cases involve the same question. The first is a writ of error to the circuit court to review a judgment committing the plaintiff in error for contempt. The second in an appeal from an order of the circuit court dismissing a writ of habeas corpus sued out after such com-

Page 367

mitment. The third is an appeal from an order dismissing a writ of habeas corpus by which a discharge was sought from a later commitment for a similar contempt.

The contempt consisted in the refusal of the plaintiff in error and appellant, Christopher C. Wilson, to permit the inspection by a grand jury of letter-press copy books in his possession. The books belonged to a corporation of which he was president, and were required to be produced by a subpoena duces tecum.

The circumstances were these: The grand jury impaneled in the circuit court for some time had been inquiring into alleged violations of §§ 5440 and 5480 of the United States Revised Statutes (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, pp. 3676, 3696) by Wilson and others. Wilson was the president of the United Wireless Telegraph Company, a corporation organized under the laws of the state of Maine. On August 3, 1910, the grand jury found two indictments against him and certain officers, directors, and stockholders of this corporation, the one charging fraudulent use of the mails and the other a conspiracy for such use. The grand jury continued its investigations and on October 7, 1910, a subpoena duces tecum was issued (set forth in the margin ), which was directed to the

The President of the United States of America to United Wireless Telegraph Company 42 Broadway, New York, N. Y., Greeting:

[Seal]

We command you, that all business and excuses being laid aside, you appear before the grand inquest of the body of the people of the United States of America for the southern district of New York, at a circuit court to be held in the United States Courthouse and Postoffice Building, borough of Manhattan, city of New York, on the 10th day of October, 1910, at 11 o'clock in the forenoon, and that you produce at the time and place aforesaid, the following:

Letter-press copy books of United Wireless Telegraph Company, containing copies of letters and telegrams signed or purporting to be signed by the president of said company during the months of May and June, 1909, in regard to an alleged violation of the statutes of the United States by C. C. Wilson.

And for a failure to produce the aforesaid documents, you will be deemed guilty of a contempt of court, and liable to the penalties of the law.

Witness, the Honorable John M. Harlan, Senior Associate Justice of the United States, at the borough of Manhattan, city of New York, the 7th day of October, 1910.

John A. Shields,

Clerk.

Henry Wise,

U. S. Attorney.

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United Wireless Telegraph Company, requiring its appearance before the grand jury and the production by it of the letter-press copy boks of the company, 'containing copies of letters and telegrams signed or purporting to be signed by the president of said company during the month of May and June, 1909, in regard to an alleged violation of the statutes of the United States by C. C. Wilson.'

Service was made upon the company by service upon Wilson, as president, and upon its secretary and two directors. On the return day, Wilson appeared before the grand jury, and in response to questions, when not under oath, stated that he answered the call of the United Wireless Telegraph Company, and declined to answer further questions until he was sworn; and having been sworn, and being asked whether or not the company produced the letter-press copy books called for, he filed a written statement in which, after describing the subpoena, he said:

'3. Said letter-press copy books for the months of May and June, 1909, in said subpoena mentioned, during said months of May and June, 1909, were kept regularly in my office as president of said corporation, and were regularly used by me, and for the most part, if not entirely, by me only, and contained copies of my personal and other correspondence, as well as copies of the correspondence relating to the business and affairs of said corporation. For the greater part of the time during and since May and June, 1909, and all the time during the last month and

Page 369

more, said letter-press copy books have been and still are in my possession, custody, and control, and as against any other officer or employee of said corporation, or any other person, I have been entitled to such possession, custody, and control. I did not secure, and have not at any time held possession of, said letter-press copy books in anticipation that any subpoena for their production would be served upon me or said corporation, or for the purpose of evading any subpoena or other legal process which might be served upon me or said corporation.'

He alleged that he was the 'C. C. Wilson' mentioned in the subpoena as the one against whom the inquiry was directed, and described the pending indictments. He stated that the letter-press copy books were essential to the preparation of his defense, and that he was using them for that purpose; that he believed that the matters therein contained would tend to incriminate him; and that he 'should not be compelled, directly or indirectly, to furnish or produce said letter-press copy books, as called for by said subpoena,' nor to testify in regard to their contents, nor permit them to be used against him. He added that he had the books with him, but that he declined to deliver them to the grand jury, insisting that his refusal was in entire good faith.

The grand jury presented the matter to the court, and Wilson was adjudged to be in contempt, and was committed to the custody of the marshal 'until he shall cease to obstruct and impede the United Wireless Telegraph Company from complying with the subpoena duces tecum attached to the above-mentioned presentment, or otherwise purge himself from this contempt.' This is the judgment which is the subject of review in the first case (No. 759).

Wilson then petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that the commitment was illegal for the reasons (1) that the court was without jurisdiction to entertain

Page 370

the charge of contempt; (2) that there was no 'cause' or 'action' pending in the court between the United States and any party mentioned in the subpoena, in which the petitioner could be required to testify or give evidence; (3) that the grand jury was not in the exercise of its legitimate authority in prosecuting the investigation set out in the presentment, its powers being limited to the investigation of specific charges against particular persons; and (4) that the subpoena was illegal, unauthorized, and void because it did not comply with § 877 of the United States Revised Statutes (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 667), in that it required the person addressed to appear, and not to attend, and did not require the person addressed 'to testify generally' in behalf of the United States; and because it was not issued pursuant to an order of court, was addressed to the corporation without mention of any individual or officer, and would not apprise the defendant in the prosecution which might follow of the name of the precise witness who might have appeared against him.

It was further urged, reiterating in substance what had been said to the grand jury, that the petitioner should not be held in contempt, as the subpoena was not directed to him, but merely to the corporation; and generally, that the proceedings were in violation of his rights under the 4th and 5th Amendments of the Constitution of the United States.

The writ was issued, and on return being made of the commitment, was dismissed and the petitioner remanded, and from this order an appeal was taken to this court (No. 760).

Later, on October 28th, 1910, another subpoena duces tecum was issued in the same form, addressed to the United Wireless Telegraph Company, and calling for the same books. It was served on the appellant Wilson and also on the secretary and five directors of the company. On the return day, they appeared before the grand jury,

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the appellant Wilson then having in his possession a letter-press copy book which the subpoena described, but upon demand being made it was not produced before the grand jurors for their inspection. The foreman then directed the production of the books on the following day, when the same persons again appeared, Wilson still having the book above mentioned, and the demand and refusal were repeated.

Thereupon the grand jury, through the district attorney, made an oral presentment to the court, in the presence of Wilson and the others who had been served with the subpoena, that the corporation and its officers and directors were in contempt, and specifically with respect to Wilson, that he was 'preventing the corporation from complying with the process.' On behalf of the directors before the court, it was stated that they had made efforts to obtain the books for production before the grand jury, but that Wilson had declined to surrender them. They presented the minutes of a meeting of the board of directors held on that day, at which these...

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754 practice notes
  • United States v. Chen, Civil Action No. 12–10973–WGY.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • July 3, 2013
    ...compulsory production.” Shapiro v. United States, 335 U.S. 1, 17, 68 S.Ct. 1375, 92 L.Ed. 1787 (1948) (quoting Wilson v. United States, 221 U.S. 361, 380, 31 S.Ct. 538, 55 L.Ed. 771 (1911)) (internal quotation mark omitted). There are certain documents as to which “the custodian has volunta......
  • Schoeps v. Carmichael, No. 12008.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • September 23, 1949
    ...of claim of privilege asserted by a witness, consult Hale v. Henkel, 201 U.S. 43, 26 S.Ct. 370, 50 L.Ed. 652; Wilson v. United States, 221 U.S. 361, 31 S.Ct. 538, 55 L.Ed. 771, Ann.Cas.1912D, 558; United States ex rel. Vajtauer v. Commissioner, 273 U.S. 103, 47 S.Ct. 302, 71 L.Ed. 560; Unit......
  • State v. Billups, 32715
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • May 10, 1937
    ...immunity; fourth, appellee's books were not compelled to be produced before the Committee as required by Section 5340. Wilson v. U.S. 221 U.S. 361, 55 L.Ed. 771; 38 R. C. L., sec. 13; 71 C. J., Witnesses, sec. 899; Sherwin v. U.S. 268 U.S. 368, 69 L.Ed. 1001; Counselman v. Hitchcock, 142 U.......
  • U.S. v. O'Shea, Miscellaneous Action No. 5:09-mc-00043.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • September 8, 2009
    ...force them to be witnesses against themselves in violation of their validly invoked Fifth Amendment rights. See Wilson v. United States, 221 U.S. 361, 385, 31 S.Ct. 538, 55 L.Ed. 771 (1911) ("[Custodians of records] may decline to utter upon the witness stand a single self-incriminating Que......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
753 cases
  • United States v. Chen, Civil Action No. 12–10973–WGY.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • July 3, 2013
    ...compulsory production.” Shapiro v. United States, 335 U.S. 1, 17, 68 S.Ct. 1375, 92 L.Ed. 1787 (1948) (quoting Wilson v. United States, 221 U.S. 361, 380, 31 S.Ct. 538, 55 L.Ed. 771 (1911)) (internal quotation mark omitted). There are certain documents as to which “the custodian has volunta......
  • Schoeps v. Carmichael, No. 12008.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • September 23, 1949
    ...of claim of privilege asserted by a witness, consult Hale v. Henkel, 201 U.S. 43, 26 S.Ct. 370, 50 L.Ed. 652; Wilson v. United States, 221 U.S. 361, 31 S.Ct. 538, 55 L.Ed. 771, Ann.Cas.1912D, 558; United States ex rel. Vajtauer v. Commissioner, 273 U.S. 103, 47 S.Ct. 302, 71 L.Ed. 560; Unit......
  • State v. Billups, 32715
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • May 10, 1937
    ...immunity; fourth, appellee's books were not compelled to be produced before the Committee as required by Section 5340. Wilson v. U.S. 221 U.S. 361, 55 L.Ed. 771; 38 R. C. L., sec. 13; 71 C. J., Witnesses, sec. 899; Sherwin v. U.S. 268 U.S. 368, 69 L.Ed. 1001; Counselman v. Hitchcock, 142 U.......
  • U.S. v. O'Shea, Miscellaneous Action No. 5:09-mc-00043.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • September 8, 2009
    ...force them to be witnesses against themselves in violation of their validly invoked Fifth Amendment rights. See Wilson v. United States, 221 U.S. 361, 385, 31 S.Ct. 538, 55 L.Ed. 771 (1911) ("[Custodians of records] may decline to utter upon the witness stand a single self-incriminating Que......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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