Helstoski v. Meanor

Decision Date18 June 1979
Docket NumberNo. 78-546,78-546
Citation442 U.S. 500,61 L.Ed.2d 30,99 S.Ct. 2445
PartiesHenry HELSTOSKI, Petitioner, v. H. Curtis MEANOR, United States District Judge, et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
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, 97 S.Ct. 2034, 52 L.Ed.2d 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, 87 S.Ct. 1425, 1427, 18 L.Ed.2d 577. 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] Clause his . . . challenge to the indictment must be reviewable before . . . exposure [to trial] occurs." Abney, supra, 431 U.S., at 662, 97 S.Ct., at 2042. 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 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.

Morton Stavis, Newark, N. J., for petitioner.

Stanley M. Brand, Washington, D. C., for Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr., Speaker of the House, et al.

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.

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; or

* * * * *

"Shall be fined . . . or imprisoned." (Emphasis added.)

"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

* * * * *

" '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, 86 S.Ct. 749, 15 L.Ed.2d 681 (1966), and United States v. Brewster, 408 U.S. 501, 92 S.Ct. 2531, 33 L.Ed.2d 507 (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 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, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (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 indictment.

The Court of Appeals declined to issue the writ of mandamus. 576 F.2d 511 (CA3 1978). It concluded that the indictment in this case was indistinguishable from that in United States v. Brewster, supra, where an indictment was held not to violate the Speech or Debate Clause even though it contained references to legislative acts. The Court of Appeals rejected Helstoski's argument that the indictment was invalid because the grand jury had heard evidence of legisla- tive acts, which he argued was in violation of the Speech or Debate Clause. The court declined to go behind the indictment, holding that it was valid on its face.

In seeking reversal here of the Court of Appeals holding, Helstoski argues that the extraordinary remedy of mandamus is appropriate in this case to protect the constitutional command of separation of powers. He contends that the Speech or Debate Clause assigns exclusive jurisdiction over all legislative acts to Congress. The indictment itself, he urges, is a violation of that Clause because it represents an impermissible assertion of jurisdiction over the legislative function by the grand jury and the federal courts. He challenges the validity of the indictment on two grounds. First, the indictment itself refers to legislative acts. Any attempt at restricting the proof at trial, as approved by the Court of Appeals, will amount to an amendment of the indictment, thereby violating a Fifth Amendment right to be tried only on an indictment in precisely the form issued by a grand jury. Second, he contends the Speech or Debate Clause was violated when the grand jury was allowed to consider evidence of his legislative acts notwithstanding that such evidence and testimony was presented by him.

II

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