Murchison, No. 405

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBLACK
Citation99 L.Ed. 942,349 U.S. 133,75 S.Ct. 623
Docket NumberNo. 405
Decision Date16 May 1955
PartiesIn the Matters of Lee Roy MURCHISON and John White, Petitioners

349 U.S. 133
75 S.Ct. 623
99 L.Ed. 942
In the Matters of Lee Roy MURCHISON and John White, Petitioners.
No. 405.
Argued April 20, 1955.
Decided May 16, 1955.

Mr. William L. Colden, Detroit, Mich., for petitioner.

Mr. Edmund E. Shepherd, Lansing, Mich., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Michigan law authorizes any judge of its courts of record to act as a so-called 'one-man grand jury.'1 He can compel witnesses to appear before him in secret to testify about suspected crimes. We have previously held that such a Michigan 'judge-grand jury' cannot consistently with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment summarily convict a witness of contempt for

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conduct in the secret hearings. In re Oliver, 333 U.S. 257, 68 S.Ct. 499, 92 L.Ed. 682. We held that before such a conviction could stand, due process requires as a minimum that an accused be given a public trial after reasonable notice of the charges, have a right to examine witnesses against him, call witnesses on his own behalf, and be represented by counsel. The question now before us is whether a contempt proceeding conducted in accordance with these standards complies with the due process requirement of an impartial tribunal where the same judge presiding at the contempt hearing had also served as the 'one-man grand jury' out of which the contempt charges arose. This does not involve, of course, the longexercised power of courts summarily to punish certain conduct occurring in open court.2

The petitioners, Murchison and White, were called as witnesses before a 'one-man judge-grand jury.' Murchison, a Detroit policeman, was interrogated at length in the judge's secret hearings where questions were asked him about suspected gambling in Detroit and bribery of policemen. His answers left the judge persuaded that he had committed perjury, particularly in view of other evidence before the 'judge-grand jury.' The judge then charged Murchison with perjury and ordered him to appear and show cause why he should not be punished for criminal contempt.3 White, the other petitioner, was

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also summoned to appear as a witness in the same 'one-man grand jury' hearing. Asked numerous questions about gambling and bribery, he refused to answer on the ground that he was entitled under Michigan law to have counsel present with him. The 'judge-grand jury' charged White with contempt and ordered him to appear and show cause. The judge who had been the 'grand jury' then tried both petitioners in open court, convicted and sentenced them for contempt. Petitioners objected to being tried for contempt by this particular judge for a number of reasons including: (1) Michigan law expressly provides that a judge conducting a 'one-man grand jury' inquiry will be disqualified from hearing or trying any case arising from his inquiry or from hearing any motion to dismiss or quash any complaint or indictment growing out of it, or from hearing any charge of contempt 'except alleged contempt for neglect or refusal to appear in response to a summons or subpoena'; (2) trial before the judge who was at the same time the complainant, indicter and prosecutor, constituted a denial of the fair and impartial trial required by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The trial judge answered the first challenge by holding that the state statute barring him from trying the contempt cases violated the Michigan Constitution on the ground that it would deprive a judge of inherent power to punish contempt. This interpretation of the Michigan Constitution is binding here. As to the second challenge

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the trial judge held that due process did not forbid him to try the contempt charges. He also rejected other constitutional contentions made by petitioners. The State Supreme Court sustained all the trial judge's holdings and affirmed.4 Importance of the federal constitutional questions raised caused us to grant certiorari.5 The view we take makes it unnecessary for us to consider or decide any of those questions except the due process challenge to trial by the judge who had conducted the secret 'one-man grand jury' proceedings.6

A fair trial in a fair tribunal is a basic requirement of due process. Fairness of course requires an absence of actual bias in the trial of cases. But our system of law has always endeavored to prevent even the probability of unfairness. To this end no man can be a judge in his own case and no man is permitted to try cases where he has an interest in the outcome. That interest cannot be defined with precision. Circumstances and relationships must be considered. This Court has said, however, that 'Every procedure which would offer a possible temptation to the average man as a judge * * * not to hold the balance nice, clear, and true between the State and the accused denies the latter due process of law.' Tumey v. State of Ohio, 273 U.S. 510, 532, 47 S.Ct. 437, 444, 71 L.Ed. 749. Such a stringent rule may sometimes bar trial by judges who have no actual bias and who would do their very best to weigh the scales of justice equally between contending parties. But to perform its high function in the best way 'justice must satisfy the appearance of justice.' Offutt v. United States, 348 U.S. 11, 14, 75 S.Ct. 11, 13.

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It would be very strange if our system of law permitted a judge to act as a grand jury and then try the very persons accused as a result of his investigations. Perhaps no State has ever forced a defendant to accept grand jurors as proper trial jurors to pass on charges growing out of their hearings.7 A single 'judge-grand jury' is even more a part of the accusatory process than an ordinary lay grand juror. Having been a part of that process a judge cannot be, in the very nature of things, wholly disinterested in the conviction or acquittal of those accused. While he would not likely have all the zeal of a prosecutor, it can certainly not be said that he would have none of that zeal.8 Fair trials are too important a part of our free society to let prosecuting judges be trial judges of the charges they prefer.9 It is true that contempt committed in a trial courtroom can under some circumstances be punished summarily by the trial judge. See Cooke v. United States, 267 U.S. 517, 539, 45 S.Ct. 390, 395, 396, 69 L.Ed. 767. But adjudication by a trial judge of a contempt committed in his immediate presence in open court cannot be likened to the proceedings here. For we held in the Oliver case (333 U.S. 257, 68 S.Ct. 501) that a person charged with contempt before a 'one-man grand jury' could not be summarily tried.

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As a practical matter it is difficult if not impossible for a judge to free himself from the influence of what took place in his 'grand-jury' secret session. His recollection of that is likely to weigh far more heavily with him than any testimony given in the open hearings. That it sometimes does is illustrated by an incident which occurred in White's case. In finding White guilty of contempt the trial judge said, 'there is one thing the record does not show, and that was Mr. White's attitude, and...

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2016 practice notes
  • Arizona Contractors Ass'n Inc. v. Candelaria, No. CV07-02496-PHX-NVW.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Arizona
    • February 7, 2008
    ...& Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306, 314, 70 S.Ct. 652, 94 L.Ed. 865 (1950). It also requires a fair trial in a fair tribunal." In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136, 75 S.Ct. 628, 99 L.Ed. 942 (1955); United States v. Superior Court, 144 Ariz. 265, 280, 697 P.2d 658, 673 (1985). Due process "is flexibl......
  • Williams v. Anderson, No. 04-3515.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • August 28, 2006
    ...in the outcome of the particular case but whose interests in another case were directly furthered by his holding); In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 75 S.Ct. 623, 99 L.Ed. 942 (1931) (disqualifying a judge with non-pecuniary interest in the outcome of trial). An interest is sufficiently substa......
  • Lucas v. Wisconsin Electric Power Company, No. 71-1113.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • August 2, 1972
    ...who has no interest in the outcome of a case before him —is required to meet the minimum standards of due process. In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136, 75 S.Ct. 623, 99 L.Ed. 942 (1955); Tumey v. Ohio, 273 U.S. 510, 523, 47 S.Ct. 437, 71 L.Ed. 749 In Shepard v. Milwaukee Gas Light Co., 6 Wis......
  • Hobby v. United States, No. 82-2140
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • July 2, 1984
    ...as a whole. Emphasizing the defendant's due process right to be fairly tried by a competent and impartial tribunal, see In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136, 75 S.Ct. 623, 625, 99 L.Ed. 942 (1955), the opinion reasoned that unconstitutionally discriminatory jury selection procedures create th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2009 cases
  • Arizona Contractors Ass'n Inc. v. Candelaria, No. CV07-02496-PHX-NVW.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Arizona
    • February 7, 2008
    ...& Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306, 314, 70 S.Ct. 652, 94 L.Ed. 865 (1950). It also requires a fair trial in a fair tribunal." In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136, 75 S.Ct. 628, 99 L.Ed. 942 (1955); United States v. Superior Court, 144 Ariz. 265, 280, 697 P.2d 658, 673 (1985). Due process "is flexibl......
  • Williams v. Anderson, No. 04-3515.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • August 28, 2006
    ...in the outcome of the particular case but whose interests in another case were directly furthered by his holding); In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 75 S.Ct. 623, 99 L.Ed. 942 (1931) (disqualifying a judge with non-pecuniary interest in the outcome of trial). An interest is sufficiently substa......
  • Lucas v. Wisconsin Electric Power Company, No. 71-1113.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • August 2, 1972
    ...who has no interest in the outcome of a case before him —is required to meet the minimum standards of due process. In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136, 75 S.Ct. 623, 99 L.Ed. 942 (1955); Tumey v. Ohio, 273 U.S. 510, 523, 47 S.Ct. 437, 71 L.Ed. 749 In Shepard v. Milwaukee Gas Light Co., 6 Wis......
  • Hobby v. United States, No. 82-2140
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • July 2, 1984
    ...as a whole. Emphasizing the defendant's due process right to be fairly tried by a competent and impartial tribunal, see In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136, 75 S.Ct. 623, 625, 99 L.Ed. 942 (1955), the opinion reasoned that unconstitutionally discriminatory jury selection procedures create th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 firm's commentaries
  • Supreme Court Strikes Key Provision Of New York's Anti-Eviction Law
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • August 18, 2021
    ...man can be a judge in his own case' consistent with the Due Process Clause," wrote the justices in the majority (quoting In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136 (1955)). The Court concluded by making clear that its ruling does not affect any other portion of the Act or the Tenant Safe Harbor Act......
  • Supreme Court Strikes Key Provision Of New York's Anti-Eviction Law
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • August 18, 2021
    ...man can be a judge in his own case' consistent with the Due Process Clause," wrote the justices in the majority (quoting In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136 (1955)). The Court concluded by making clear that its ruling does not affect any other portion of the Act or the Tenant Safe Harbor Act......
3 books & journal articles
  • Guiding Presidential Clemency Decision Making
    • United States
    • The Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy Nbr. 18-2, July 2020
    • July 1, 2020
    ...Gutierrez de Martinez v. Lamagno, 515 U.S. 417, 428–29 (1995); Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Lavoie, 475 U.S. 813, 822 (1986); In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136 (1955) (“[O]ur system of law has always endeavored to prevent even the probability of unfairness. To this end no man can be a judge in h......
  • JUDICIAL DEFERENCE TO MUNICIPAL INTERPRETATION.
    • United States
    • Fordham Urban Law Journal Vol. 49 Nbr. 4, May 2022
    • May 1, 2022
    ...power and citing several sources). (29.) Tetra Tech, 914 N.W.2d at 45. (30.) Id. (31.) Id. (32.) Id. at 48-50 (quoting In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136 (1955)); see also State v. Herrmann, 867 N.W.2d 772, 778 (Wis. 2015) (applying the principle in (33.) Tetra Tech, 914 N.W.2d at 48-49. (3......
  • The Warren Court - After Three Terms
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 9-4, December 1956
    • December 1, 1956
    ...Chandler v. Fretag, 348 U.S. 3 (1954), and Massey v. Moore, 348 U.S. 105 (1954).29 Regan v. New York, 349 U.S. 58 (1955); In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133 (1955); Williams v. Georgia, 349 U.S. 375 (1955). 30 United States v. Menasche, 348 U.S. 528 (1955), and Shomberg v. United States, 348 U.S......

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