Hoffa v. Saxbe

Decision Date19 July 1974
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 74-424.
Citation378 F. Supp. 1221
PartiesJames R. HOFFA et al., Plaintiffs, v. William B. SAXBE, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia


Leonard B. Boudin, Michael Krinsky, Eric M. Lieberman, New York City, David Rosenberg, Cambridge, Mass., David Rein, Washington, D. C., for plaintiffs.

Michael A. Katz, Asst. U. S. Atty., Washington, D. C., for defendant.


JOHN H. PRATT, District Judge.

This is a suit by plaintiff,1 James R. Hoffa, to set aside as invalid the condition or restriction attached to the commutation of sentence granted on December 23, 1971, by the President. As a result of this commutation, plaintiff's sentence was reduced to 6½ years and he was released from prison on December 23, 1971. The matter came before us on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and defendant's motions to dismiss or alternatively for summary judgment.

1. The Facts

On March 7, 1967, plaintiff entered the Federal Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and commenced serving an aggregate sentence of thirteen years imposed as the result of two convictions for felonies. Previously, on March 4, 1964, plaintiff had been convicted before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee of two counts of obstruction of justice in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1503, under an indictment charging jury tampering. On March 12, 1964, he received sentences of four years on each count, the sentences to run consecutively. In August, 1964, plaintiff had been convicted before the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, on four counts charging violations of the mail and wire fraud statutes, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341, 1343, and of conspiracy to defraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, with respect to a scheme to defraud a Teamsters Pension Fund. For this conviction he received sentences of five years on each count, to be served concurrently but consecutive to the eight year term earlier imposed. Both of these convictions were eventually affirmed on appeal. United States v. Hoffa, 437 F.2d 11 (6th Cir. 1971), cert. denied, 402 U.S. 988, 91 S.Ct. 1664, 29 L.Ed.2d 154 (1971); United States v. Hoffa, 436 F.2d 1243 (7th Cir. 1970), cert. denied, 400 U.S. 1000, 91 S.Ct. 455, 27 L.Ed.2d 451 (1971).

The thirteen-year sentence would have expired on March 6, 1980. As computed by the Bureau of Prisons in accordance with 18 U.S.C. § 4161, plaintiff would have been eligible for mandatory release on November 28, 1975 through the deduction of statutory good time from the full thirteen-year sentence.

In November, 1969, plaintiff applied for and was denied parole, his application being put over for eighteen months. On March 31, 1971, plaintiff was again denied parole by the Board of Parole sitting en banc. In June, 1971, plaintiff, who had continued to serve as President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters while incarcerated, resigned from said position and all affiliated organizations. In July, 1971, he did not seek election to union office at the annual convention of the Teamsters. Following plaintiff's change of status, the Board of Parole granted a rehearing of plaintiff's application but on August 20, 1971 again denied said application, deferring further consideration until June, 1972.

On or about December 13, 1971, plaintiff, acting through his then counsel, filed two petitions for commutation addressed to the President of the United States asking that he be granted commutation of each of the sentences resulting from the previously described convictions. In each of said petitions for commutation, plaintiff, after setting forth the history of his previous applications for parole and his resignation from all union offices, made the following representation:

"Your petitioner does not have routine problems usually faced by persons released from prison for the reason that he has a home, a devoted family, ties in the community, and adequate assurances of a continuing livelihood. Your petitioner would be supported by and live on a pension to which he is entitled for his previous years of service to the Teamster's Union. Further, your petitioner, if he is granted a commutation of sentence, intends to enter the educational field on a limited basis as a teacher, lecturer or educator, as may be approved by your Excellency."

The petitions for commutation were received by Lawrence Traylor, the Pardon Attorney of the Department of Justice, pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 0.35. Thereafter and prior to December 23, 1971, the Pardon Attorney prepared a recommendation that plaintiff's application for commutation be granted and forwarded said recommendation in the form of a "Letter of Advice" to the President for the Attorney General's signature. The recommendation for commutation prepared by the Pardon Attorney did not contain any condition or restriction upon plaintiff's activities when released. Upon receipt of the Letter of Advice from the Pardon Attorney, the Attorney General executed it and forwarded it to the White House. In recommending the commutation of plaintiff's sentence, the Letter of Advice from the Attorney General did not recommend that any condition be included or that there by any restriction on plaintiff's right to hold union office or engage in union activities. The Letter of Advice reached John Dean, counsel to the President, whose jurisdiction extended to such matters. Mr. Dean initiated the matter of the condition in a discussion with the Attorney General but the facts are in dispute as to whether this discussion took place before or after the receipt of the Letter of Advice. In any event, Dean, after consultation with Traylor, sent the Attorney General a legal memorandum on the subject of the condition. Later, on or about December 23, 1971, Dean instructed Traylor to prepare a new warrant commuting plaintiff's sentences and further containing the condition which is the subject of this litigation. This warrant, together with a covering memorandum, was submitted by Dean to the President, who on December 23, 1971, executed the warrant as submitted. The Letter of Advice from the Attorney General never reached the President. The warrant,

"commuted the combined consecutive sentences of the said James R. Hoffa, also known as James Riddle Hoffa, to a term of six and one-half years' imprisonment upon the condition that the said James R. Hoffa not engage in direct or indirect management of any labor organization prior to March sixth, 1980 * * *"2

On December 23, 1971, at 4:10 p. m., plaintiff was released from Lewisburg after signing a mandatory release certificate. The evidence is in dispute as to whether plaintiff had knowledge of the condition before or at the time of his release. He has admitted that he heard about it over the media that evening in St. Louis. Furthermore, on December 27, 1971, he was formally advised of it and given a copy of its text by the Chief Probation Officer for the Eastern District of Michigan. The individual warrant of conditional commutation was delivered to plaintiff by certified mail on January 11, 1972, which plaintiff failed to acknowledge.

Through the period from December 23, 1971, when he was released from prison, to the present, plaintiff has abided by the condition of his commutation. On March 10, 1973, the standard conditions of parole applicable to plaintiff's mandatory release on December 23, 1971, expired. On February 5, 1974, plaintiff filed a formal application with the Attorney General requesting removal of the condition. Believing that relief was not imminent, this suit was filed on March 13, 1974.

2. The Issues.

Under Article II, Section 2, Clause One of the Constitution the President has the "Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment." The instant case challenges the exercise of that power in granting plaintiff Hoffa's conditional commutation, and alleges that the condition prohibiting Hoffa from participating in union management until 1980 unlawfully infringes on his First Amendment rights of speech and association, amounts to additional punishment and a bill of attainder as well as contravening the double jeopardy clause, all in violation of the Fifth Amendment, and contends that the condition was imposed outside the normal pardon application procedures, without due process of law, and in spite of the fact that Mr. Hoffa never "accepted" the condition. Plaintiff further alleges that the condition was formulated and imposed as the result of a conspiracy involving the President, one of his advisors, Mr. Colson, the president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Mr. Fitzsimmons, and unknown others.

Plaintiff has moved for summary judgment on all issues except for the conspiracy allegation. On the latter issue, plaintiff contends that he has a right to full discovery and a trial of the factual questions raised thereby. Defendant, however, in moving to dismiss, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, argues that the Court lacks jurisdiction to inquire into the rationale or motivations for the President's decision. The Court agrees that the matters raised by plaintiff's conspiracy charge are irrelevant to the validity vel non of the conditional commutation. We hold that the President may exercise his discretion under the Reprieves and Pardons Clause for whatever reason he deems appropriate and it is not for the courts to inquire into the rationale of his decision. See Ex parte Grossman, 267 U.S. 87, 45 S.Ct. 332, 69 L.Ed. 527 (1925). If, as the plaintiff specifically claims, the President participated in the alleged conspiracy, it necessarily follows that the President was also fully aware of the considerations motivating the final decision to commute Hoffa's sentence. There is no claim that the President was in any way deceived or misled into acting upon Hoffa's application for...

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20 cases
  • LOCAL NO. 1 (ACA), ETC. v. IBT, C., W. & H.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • August 12, 1976
    ...evidenced, inter alia, by the joinder of Local 1 as a party plaintiff in the case of Hoffa et al. v. Saxbe et al. in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 378 F.Supp. 1221. The Hoffa v. Saxbe plaintiffs alleged that the commutation restrictions upon Hoffa's release ......
  • Spinkellink v. Wainwright
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit
    • August 21, 1978
    ...Brown v. Lundgren, 5 Cir., 528 F.2d 1050, 1052-53, cert. denied, 429 U.S. 917, 97 S.Ct. 308, 50 L.Ed.2d 283 (1976); Hoffa v. Saxbe, D.D.C., 1974, 378 F.Supp. 1221, 1245. But it did not. The governor and cabinet, pursuant to established procedures, wisely chose to consider whether the petiti......
  • Vincent v. Schlesinger, Civ. A. No. 74-1847.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • January 29, 1975
    ...attached violate corollary constitutional provisions, Schick v. Reed, 419 U.S. 256, 95 S.Ct. 379, 42 L. Ed.2d 430 (1974); Hoffa v. Saxbe, 378 F.Supp. 1221 (D.D.C.1974). Further, it appears that the Court has jurisdiction to review the administration of the terms of a Presidential Proclamati......
  • Marino v. Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Dept. of Justice
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • June 24, 1976
    ...(7 Pet.) 150, 161, 8 L.Ed. 640 (1833); United States v. Burdick, 236 U.S. 79, 91, 35 S.Ct. 267, 59 L.Ed. 476 (1915); Hoffa v. Saxbe, 378 F.Supp. 1221, 1241--43 (D.D.C.1974). In Burdick, the plaintiff in error had refused to testify before a grand jury, asserting his Fifth Amendment privileg......
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2 books & journal articles
  • When a Prison Sentence Becomes Unconstitutional
    • United States
    • Georgetown Law Journal No. 111-2, December 2022
    • December 1, 2022
    ...also id. at 7 (noting that illiterate offenders often memorized and recited this passage to escape execution). 56. See Hoffa v. Saxbe, 378 F. Supp. 1221, 1228, 1230–31 (D.D.C. 1974); Paul J. Larkin, Jr., Clemency, Parole, Good-Time Credits, and Crowded Prisons: Reconsidering Early Release ,......
    • United States
    • May 1, 2021
    ...458, 467 (1981) (Brennan, J., concurring) (explaining that the President may grant clemency for "no reason at all"); Hoffa v. Saxbe, 378 F. Supp. 1221, 1225 (D.D.C. 1974) ("[T]he President may exercise his discretion under the Reprieves and Pardons Clause for whatever reason he deems (60) S......

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