Noto v. United States

Decision Date05 June 1961
Docket NumberNo. 9,9
Citation367 U.S. 290,6 L.Ed.2d 836,81 S.Ct. 1517
PartiesJohn Francis NOTO, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. John J. Abt, New York City, for petitioner.

Mr. Kevin T. Maroney, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case, like Scales v. United States, 367 U.S. 203, 81 S.Ct. 1469, 6 L.Ed.2d 782, was brought here to test the validity of a conviction under the membership clause of the Smith Act, 18 U.S.C.A. § 2385. 361 U.S. 813, 80 S.Ct. 90, 4 L.Ed.2d 60. The case comes to us from the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit which affirmed petitioner's conviction in the District Court for the Western District of New York, after a jury trial. 262 F.2d 501.

The only one of petitioner's points we need consider is his attack on the sufficiency of the evidence, since his statutory and constitutional challenges to the conviction are disposed of by our opinion in Scales; and consideration of his other contentions is rendered unnecessary by the view we take of his evidentiary challenge.

In considering that challenge we start from the premise that Smith Act offenses require rigorous standards of proof. Scales, 367 U.S. at page 230, 81 S.Ct. at page 1487. We find that the record in this case, which was tried before our opinion issued in Yates v. United States, 354 U.S. 298, 77 S.Ct. 1064, 1 L.Ed.2d 1356, bears much of the infirmity that we found in the Yates record, and requires us to conclude that the evidence of illegal Party advocacy was insufficient to support this conviction.

A large part of the evidence adduced by the Government on that issue came from the witness Lautner, and the reading of copious excerpts from the 'communist classics.' This evidence, to be sure, plentifully shows the Party's teaching of abstract doctrine that revolution is an inevitable product of the 'proletarian' effort to achieve communism in a capitalist society, but testimony as to happenings which might have lent that evidence to an inference of 'advocacy of action' to accomplish that end during the period of the indictment, 19461954, or itself supported such an inference, is sparse indeed. Moreover, such testimony as there is of that nature was not broadly based, but was limited almost exclusively to Party doings in western New York, more especially in the cities of Rochester and Buffalo, the scene of petitioner's principal Party activities. Further, the showing of illegal Party advocacy lacked the compelling quality which in Scales, ante, 367 U.S. 203, 81 S.Ct. 1469, 6 L.Ed.2d 782, was supplied by the petitioner's own utterances and systematic course of conduct as a high Party official. We proceed to a summary of this testimony.

The witness Dietch described mainly episodes from his indoctrination as a member of the Rochester Young Communist League during the years 19351938. In that time he knew petitioner, with whom he had gone to high school, and testified that petitioner, then a youth, was an active and convinced member of the League. Apart from those early years, Dietch's testimony as to the Party and the petitioner referred to one other possibly relevant episode, when, in 1951, he obtained for the Party at petitioner's request two pieces of special printing equipment for which petitioner paid $100 and $200. However, this episode is deprived of significance when it appears from the witness' testimony that petitioner explained to him at the time that pressure brought to bear on the Party had made it difficult for it to get its printing done by conventional commercial means.

The witness Geraldine Hicks had joined the Party in 1943 at the request of the F.B.I. and continued to be involved with it until 1953. She knew petitioner in connection with his work as Chairman of the Erie County Communist Party from 1946 until 1950. Her testimony related to classes and meetings which she atended in the Buffalo area, where the 'communist classics' were used for teaching purposes. Extensive passages from these works were read into evidence. She also testified as to the importance attributed by the local Party to its 'industrial concentration' work and to its recruitment of workers in those industries as well as to the importance attributed to the recruitment of Negroes.

The witness Chatley, who was a bus driver during the period of his Communist Party membership from 1949 onwards, testified to his contacts with petitioner and other Party members in the Buffalo area. He testified to Party teachings as to the importance of receiving solid support from the labor unions. He was given various items of literature such as the History of the Russian Revolution and The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, which latter dealt with an early Communist who had been singled out for condemnation because of his views that communism could be achieved ultimately by peaceful means. He was told by petitioner that 'if I would re-read the book(s), most of my questions would be answered. He said if there were any points I did not understand he would be happy to clear them up at a later visit.' Perhaps the most significant item of Chatley's testimony dealt with an interview with petitioner, at which Chatley was requested to hide out a Party member who was fleeing the F.B.I. in connection with 'what the newspapers called this Atom Spy Ring business.' So far as the record reveals, the plans never progressed beyond this request. The petitioner had also told Chatley that the Federal Government was building concentration camps:

'* * * He said they are not building them for ornamental purposes. He said 'They are going to fill them with our people, starting with the leaders.' * * * He said that he expected when they were ready he would be one of the first people to go. He said the Federal Government would continue with these camps and fill them with a lot of people, but the time would come when there would be a show-down working people will stand just so much. It might take several years, it will result in bad times, but in the end it will result in a turn in the country to Marxism and Leninism. He said then his part might be in it, he was willing to suffer anything to bring it to that glorious end.'

Certainly the most damaging testimony came from the witness Regan, who as a government agent and Party member from 1947 in the Buffalo-Rochester area gathered considerable information on the Party's 'industrial concentration' program in that area. Regan, at the request of petitioner, attended a Party meeting in New York City on creating a Party commission in the United Auto Workers. The conference concerned the penetration of the United Auto Workers, and plans were made for getting people into various shops in automobile plants in the State, who could later assume positions of leadership in the union. At a later date petitioner also discussed the penetration of an automobile plant in the area by Party members sent up from New York City. Regan also received a pamphlet, but not from the petitioner, dealing with the concentration program in the steel industry. The pamphlet stated at one point:

'1. Three basic industries, steel, railroad, and mining. These are basis (sic) to the National economy, that is if any one or all three are shut down by strike our economy is paralyzed. It is necessary for a Marxist revolutionary party to be rooted in these industries.'

In 1949 Regan attended a conference in Rochester at which the petitioner spoke: 'He discussed concentration work, and he said the task of the Party was to build the Party within the shop in Buffalo * * * he specifically mentioned both steel and Westinghouse Electric.' Another speaker said that 'steel industry was a basic indus- try, by basic industry he said the entire section of industry within the country depended on steel.' Regan also attended a conference in New York Ct y at which petitioner spoke:

'* * * He said a Lenin method of work within the shop was to decide upon the particular dependent within the shop, that the shop as a rule depended upon, to suspend production, it was the job of every communist to know the people, executives and product of the company, if possible to direct his attention on the key department, better still, to get a job in the key department.'

Several other passages in Regan's testimony should be adverted to for their bearing on the tone of the record before us. Speaking of the war in Korea, Regan testified that the petitioner had said at the conference of the Upstate District of the Party in 1950:

'* * * the war * * * was caused by an agressive action of the United States, American troops would follow Wall Street policy. He said it is possible for this to break out in other parts of the world. He mentioned the near East.

'Q. Is that all?

'A. Yes.'

No effort was made to link up this conference with particularly trusted Party members, but it does appear that it was at this conference that plans were laid for building a Communist Party club 'on the railroad.'

Regan also testified to a remark made at another Party conference by a lecturer that a 'social democrat was an evolutionist who waited for socialism where the Communist Party would achieve socialism through revolutions.' At this same meeting the lecturer recounted an incident that had occurred at a class she had once taught in New Rochelle, New York, at an unspecified time:

'* * * She said a person at this class, they were discussing the Soviet Union, asked her would it be possible for him to own twenty pairs of shoes in the Soviet Union. She made the statement he was the kind of a guy they hoped to shoot some day.'

The witness recalled a similar intemperate remark by the petitioner during a meeting in 1947:

'Lumpkin (a Party member) was talking about a visit to his home by a local newspaper reporter. He said the reporter came to his home. They let him in and answered a lot of questions. * * *'

'John Noto said...

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