Offutt v. United States, No. 27

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtFRANKFURTER
Citation99 L.Ed. 11,348 U.S. 11,75 S.Ct. 11
Docket NumberNo. 27
Decision Date08 November 1954
PartiesDorsey K. OFFUTT, An Attorney, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES of America

348 U.S. 11
75 S.Ct. 11
99 L.Ed. 11
Dorsey K. OFFUTT, An Attorney, Petitioner,

v.

UNITED STATES of America.

No. 27.
Argued Oct. 22, 1954.
Decided Nov. 8, 1954.

Mr.Warren E. Magee, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. Gray Thoron, for respondent.

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case is here on review of a modified affirmance by the Court of Appeals of an order by the District Court summarily committing the petitioner for criminal contempt.

Page 12

The proceeding grew out of the trial of one Peckham for abortion under D.C.Code 1951, § 22—201, 31 Stat. 1322. The petitioner was Peckham's trial counsel. Almost from the outset, a clash between the presiding judge and petitioner became manifest, which, it is fair to say, colored the course of the trial throughout its 14 days, and with increasing personal overtones. The judge again and again admonished petitioner for what he deemed disregard of rulings and other behavior outside the allowable limits of aggressive advocacy, and warned him of the consequences by way of punishment for contempt which such conduct invited. On the other hand, these interchanges between court and counsel were marked by expressions and revealed an attitude which hardly reflected the restraints of conventional judicial demeanor. Such characterization of necessity derives from an abiding impression left from a reading of the entire record.

At the close of the trial, after the jury had retired for deliberation, the judge, acting under the procedure prescribed by Rule 42(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure1 and invoking the authority of Sacher v. United States, 343 U.S. 1, 72 S.Ct. 451, 96 L.Ed. 717, found the petitioner guilty of criminal contempt on the basis of a certificate filed under the Rule, containing 12 findings of 'contumacious, and unethical conduct in open court during the trial,' and ordered him committed for 10 days to the custody of the United States Marshal for the District of Columbia.

The Court of Appeals found that four of the 12 findings amply supported the commitment, but reduced the punishment from 10 days to 48 hours. It concluded that 'the

Page 13

record does not support the penalty imposed. Appellant's conduct cannot fairly be considered apart from that of the trial judge. Each respondent to great provocation from the other. The judge's treatment of appellant, examples of which are included in an appendix to our opinion in Peckham v. United States, (93) U.S.App.D.C. (136, 210 F.2d 693), and which is the chief factor in leading a majority of this court to conclude that Peckham's conviction cannot stand, leads us all to conclude that appellant's sentence should be reduced from 10 days to 48 hours.' 208 F.2d 842, 843—844. As indicated above, the Court of Appeals reversed Peckham's conviction because it found that the judge's behavior barred the court 'from sustaining the judgment as the product of a fair and impartial trial.' Peckham v. United States, 93 U.S.App.D.C. 136, 210 F.2d 693, 702.

In view of this Court's 'supervisory authority over the administration of criminal justice in the federal courts,' McNabb v. United States, 318 U.S. 332, 341, 63 S.Ct. 608, 613, 87 L.Ed. 819, and the importance of assuring alert self-restraint in the exercise by district judges of the summary power for punishing contempt, we brought the case here. 347 U.S. 932, 74 S.Ct. 631.

We shall not retrace the ground so recently covered in the Sacher case, supra. In enforcing Rule 42(a), the Court in that case emphasized its duty to safeguard two indispensable conditions to the fair administration of criminal justice: (1) counsel must be protected in the right of an accused to 'fearless, vigorous and effective' advocacy, no matter how unpopular the cause in which it is employed; (2) equally so will this Court 'protect the processes of orderly trial, which is the supreme object of the lawyer's calling.' 343 U.S., at pages 13—14, 72 S.Ct. at page 457. Rule 42(a) was not an innovation. It did not confer power upon district judges not possessed prior to March 21, 1946. 327 U.S. 821. 'This rule,' the Advisory Committee on the rules of criminal procedure stated, 'is substantially a

Page 14

restatement of existing law, Ex parte Terry, 128 U.S. 289 (9 S.Ct. 77, 32 L.Ed. 405); Cooke v. United States, 267 U.S. 517, 534 (45 S.Ct. 390, 394, 69 L.Ed. 767).' The pith of this rather extraordinary power to punish without the formalities required by the Bill of Rights for the prosecution of federal crimes generally, is that the necessities of the administration of justice require such summary dealing with obstructions to it. It is a mode of vindicating the majesty of law, in its active manifestation, against obstruction and outrage. The power thus entrusted to a judge is wholly unrelated to his personal sensibilities, be they tender or rugged. But judges also are human, and may, in a human way, quite unwittingly identify offense to self with obstruction to law. Accordingly, this Court has deemed it important that district judges guard against this easy confusion by not sitting themselves in judgment upon misconduct of counsel where the contempt charged is entangled with the judge's personal feeling against the lawyer.

Of course personal attacks or innuendoes by a lawyer against a judge, with a view to provoking him, only aggravate what may be an obstruction to the trial. The vital point is that in sitting in judgment on such a misbehaving lawyer the judge should not himself give vent to personal spleen or respond to a personal grievance. These are subtle matters, for they concern the ingredients of what constitutes justice. Therefore, justice must satisfy the appearance of justice.

Duly mindful of the fact that...

To continue reading

Request your trial
685 practice notes
  • Dyer v. Calderon, No. 95-99002
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • August 6, 1998
    ...More is at stake here than the rights of petitioner; "justice must satisfy the appearance of justice." Offutt v. United States, 348 U.S. 11, 14, 75 S.Ct. 11, 99 L.Ed. 11 (1954). An irregularity in the selection of those who will sit in judgment "casts a very long shadow."......
  • In re Brown, No. 23037.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • November 2, 1971
    ...45 S.Ct. at 396; emphasis added.) This rule was relied upon by the Suupreme Court in its more recent cases of Offutt v. United States, 348 U.S. 11, 75 S.Ct. 11, 99 L.Ed. 11 (1954) and Mayberry v. Pennsylvania, 400 U.S. 455, 91 S.Ct. 499, 27 L.Ed.2d 532 (1971). Obviously the Supreme Court in......
  • Linney v. Turpen, No. A066290
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • February 7, 1996
    ...contending parties,' [citations]." (Id. at p. 243, 100 S.Ct. at p. 1613, italics added, quoting Offutt v. United States (1954) 348 U.S. 11, 14, 75 S.Ct. 11, 13-14, 99 L.Ed. 11 and In re Murchison, supra, 349 U.S. 133, 136, 75 S.Ct. 623, 625; see also, Taylor v. Hayes (1974) 418 U.S. 48......
  • Smith v. State
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • August 31, 2011
    ...in the eyes of the litigants and the public, ‘justice must satisfy the appearance of justice.’ ”) (quoting Offutt v. United States, 348 U.S. 11, 13, 75 S.Ct. 11, 99 L.Ed. 11 (1954)); Leighton v. Henderson, 220 Tenn. 91, 414 S.W.2d 419, 421 (1967) (“The purpose of Article 6, § 11 of our Cons......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
685 cases
  • Dyer v. Calderon, No. 95-99002
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • August 6, 1998
    ...More is at stake here than the rights of petitioner; "justice must satisfy the appearance of justice." Offutt v. United States, 348 U.S. 11, 14, 75 S.Ct. 11, 99 L.Ed. 11 (1954). An irregularity in the selection of those who will sit in judgment "casts a very long shadow."......
  • In re Brown, No. 23037.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • November 2, 1971
    ...45 S.Ct. at 396; emphasis added.) This rule was relied upon by the Suupreme Court in its more recent cases of Offutt v. United States, 348 U.S. 11, 75 S.Ct. 11, 99 L.Ed. 11 (1954) and Mayberry v. Pennsylvania, 400 U.S. 455, 91 S.Ct. 499, 27 L.Ed.2d 532 (1971). Obviously the Supreme Court in......
  • Linney v. Turpen, No. A066290
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • February 7, 1996
    ...contending parties,' [citations]." (Id. at p. 243, 100 S.Ct. at p. 1613, italics added, quoting Offutt v. United States (1954) 348 U.S. 11, 14, 75 S.Ct. 11, 13-14, 99 L.Ed. 11 and In re Murchison, supra, 349 U.S. 133, 136, 75 S.Ct. 623, 625; see also, Taylor v. Hayes (1974) 418 U.S. 48......
  • Smith v. State
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • August 31, 2011
    ...in the eyes of the litigants and the public, ‘justice must satisfy the appearance of justice.’ ”) (quoting Offutt v. United States, 348 U.S. 11, 13, 75 S.Ct. 11, 99 L.Ed. 11 (1954)); Leighton v. Henderson, 220 Tenn. 91, 414 S.W.2d 419, 421 (1967) (“The purpose of Article 6, § 11 of our Cons......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT