Hoffman v. United States

Decision Date28 May 1951
Docket NumberNo. 513,513
Citation71 S.Ct. 814,95 L.Ed. 1118,341 U.S. 479
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr William A. Gray, Philadelphia, Pa., for petitioner.

Mr. John F. Davis, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner has been convicted of criminal contempt for refusing to obey a federal court order requiring him to answer certain questions asked in a grand jury investigation. He raises here important issues as to the application of the privilege against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment, claimed to justify his refusal.

A special federal grand jury was convened at Philadelphia on September 14, 1950, to investigate frauds upon the Federal Government, including violations of the customs, narcotics and internal revenue liquor laws of the United States, the White Slave Traffic Act, perjury, bribery, and other federal criminal laws, and conspiracy to commit all such offenses. In response to subpoena petitioner appeared to testify on the day the grand jury was empaneled, and was examined on October 3. The pertinent interrogation, in which he refused to answer, follows:

'Q. What do you do now, Mr. Hoffman? A. I refuse to answer.

'Q. Have you been in the same undertaking since the first of the year? A. I don't understand the question.

'Q. Have you been doing the same thing you are doing now since the first of the year? A. I refuse to answer.

'Q. Do you know Mr. William Weisberg? A. I do.

'Q. How long have you known him? A. Practically twenty years, I guess.

'Q. When did you last see him? A. I refuse to answer.

'Q. Have you seen him this week? A. I refuse to answer.

'Q. Do you know that a subpoena has been issued for Mr. Weisberg? A. I heard about it in Court.

'Q. Have you talked with him on the telephone this week? A. I refuse to answer.

'Q. Do you know where Mr. William Weisberg is now? A. I refuse to answer.'

It was stipulated that petitioner declined to answer on the ground that his answers might tend to incriminate him of a federal offense.

Petitioner's claim of privilege was challenged by the Government in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which found no real and substantial danger of incrimination to petitioner and ordered him to return to the grand jury and answer. Petitioner stated in open court that he would not obey the order, and on October 5 was adjudged in criminal contempt and sentenced to five months imprisonment. 18 U.S.C. § 401; Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 42(a), 18 U.S.C.A.

Petitioner appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, where the record was docketed on October 11. After denial by the District Court of his request for bail pending appeal, petitioner on October 20 filed in that court a 'Petition for Reconsideration of Allowance of Bail Pending Appeal,' alleging that 'on the basis of the facts contained in his affidavit, attached * * *, he was justified in his refusal to answer the questions as aforesaid, or, in any event, that there is so substantial a question involved that your petitioner should be released on bail * * *.' In the accompanying affidavit petitioner asserted that

'He assumed when he refused to answer the questions involved before the Grand Jury, that both it and the Court were cognizant of, and took into consideration, the facts on which he based his refusals to answer.

'He has since been advised, after his commitment, that the Court did not consider any of said facts upon which he relied and, on the contrary, the Court considered only the bare record (of the questions and answers as set out above).

'In the interest of justice and particularly in aid of a proper determination of the above petition, he submits the following in support of his position that he genuinely feared to answer the questions propounded:

'(a) This investigation was stated, in the charge of the Court to the Grand Jury, to cover 'the gamut of all crimes covered by federal statute.' * * *

'(b) Affiant has been publicly charged with being a known underworld character, and a racketeer with a twenty year police record, including a prison sentence on a narcotics charge. * * *

'(c) Affiant, while waiting to testify before the Grand Jury, was photgraphed with one Joseph N. Bransky, head of the Philadelphia office of the United States Bureau of Narcotics. * * *

'(d) Affiant was questioned concerning the whereabouts of a witness who had not been served with a subpoena and for whom a bench warrant was sought by the Government prosecutor. * * *

'On the basis of the above public facts as well as the facts within his own personal knowledge, affiant avers that he had a real fear that the answers to the questions asked by the Grand Jury would incriminate him of a federal offense.'

Included as appendices to the affidavit were clippings from local newspapers, of dates current with the grand-jury proceeding, reporting the facts asserted in the affidavit. On October 23 the District Court allowed bail. On the following day the petition for reconsideration of allowance of bail, including affidavit and appendices, was filed in the Court of Appeals as a supplemental record on appeal. The Government moved to strike this matter on the ground that it was not properly part of the appeal record.

The Court of Appeals granted the motion to strike and affirmed the conviction. 1950, 185 F.2d 617, 620. With respect to the questions regarding Weisberg, the court held unanimously that 'the relationship between possible admissions in answer to the questions * * * and the proscription of (pertinent federal criminal statutes (18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 1501)) would need to be much closer for us to conclude that there was real danger in answering.' As to the questions concerning petitioner's business, the court observed that 'It is now quite apparent that the appellant could have shown beyond question that the danger was not fanciful.' In the court's view the data submitted in the supplemental record 'would rather clearly be adequate to establish circumstantially the likelihood that appellant's assertion of fear of incrimination was not mere contumacy.' But the Court of Appeals concluded, again unanimously, that the information offered in support of the petition for reconsideration of bail 'was not before the court when it found appellant in contempt, and therefore cannot be considered now.' Thus limited to the record originally filed, the majority of the court was of the opinion, with respect to the business questions, that 'the witness here failed to give the judge any information which would allow the latter to rule intelligently on the claim of privilege for the witness simply refused to say anything and gave no facts to show why he refused to say anything.' One judge dissented, concluding that the District Court knew that 'the setting of the controversy' was 'a grand jury investigation of racketeering and federal crime in the vicinity' and 'should have adverted to the fact of common knowledge that there exists a class of persons who live by activity prohibited by federal criminal laws and that some of these persons would be summoned as witnesses in this grand jury investigation.'

Petitioner unsuccessfully sought rehearing in the Court of Appeals, urging remand to the District Court to permit reconsideration of the conviction on the basis of data in the supplemental record. We granted certiorari, 1951, 340 U.S. 946, 71 S.Ct. 532.

This is another of five proceedings before this Court during the present Term in each of which the privilege against self-incrimination has been asserted in the course of federal grand-jury investigations.* A number of similar cases have been considered recently by the lower courts. The signal increase in such litigation emphasizes the continuing necessity that prosecutors and courts alike be 'alert to repress' any abuses of the investigatory power invoked, bearing in mind that while grand juries 'may proceed, either upon their own knowledge or upon the examination of witnesses, to imquire * * * whether a crime cognizable by the court has been committed', Hale v. Henkel, 1906, 201 U.S. 43, 65, 26 S.Ct. 370, 375, 50 L.Ed. 652, yet 'the most valuable function of the grand jury (has been) not only to examine into the commission of crimes, but to stand between the prosecutor and the accused,' id., 201 U.S. at page 59, 26 S.Ct. at page 373, 50 L.Ed. 652. Enforcement officials taking the initiative in grnad-jury proceedings and courts charged with their superintendence should be sensitive to the considerations making for wise exercise of such investigatory power, not only where constitutional issues may be involved but also where the noncoercive assistance of other federal agencies may render it unnecessary to invoke the compulsive process of the grand jury.

The Fifth Amendment declares in part that 'No person * * * shall be compelled in any Criminal Case to be a wit- ness against himself'. This guarantee against testimonial compulsion, like other provisions of the Bill of Rights, 'was added to the original Constitution in the conviction that too high a price may be paid even for the unhampered enforcement of the criminal law and that, in its attainment, other social objects of a free society should not be sacrificed.' Feldman v. United States, 1944, 322 U.S. 487, 489, 64 S.Ct. 1082, 1083, 88 L.Ed. 1408. This provision of the Amendment must be accorded liberal construction in favor of the right it was intended to secure. Counselman v. Hitchcock, 1892, 142 U.S. 547, 562, 12 S.Ct. 195, 197, 35 L.Ed. 1110; Arndstein v. McCarthy, 1920, 254 U.S. 71, 72 73, 41 S.Ct. 26, 65 L.Ed. 138.

The privilege afforded not only extends to answers that would in themselves support a conviction under a federal criminal statute but likewise embraces those which would furnish a link in the chain of evidence needed to prosecute the claimant for a federal crime. (Patricia) Blau v....

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