Rogers v. United States, No. 20

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtVINSON
Citation95 L.Ed. 344,71 S.Ct. 438,340 U.S. 367
Docket NumberNo. 20
Decision Date26 February 1951
PartiesROGERS v. UNITED STATES

340 U.S. 367
71 S.Ct. 438
95 L.Ed. 344
ROGERS

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 20.
Argued Nov. 7, 1950.
Decided Feb. 26, 1951.
Rehearing Denied April 16, 1951.

See 341 U.S. 912, 71 S.Ct. 619.

Page 368

Mr. Samuel D. Menin, Denver, Colo., for petitioners.

Mr. Philip B. Perlman, Solicitor General, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Chief Justice VINSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case arises out of an investigation by the regularly convened grand jury of the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. The books and records of the Communist Party of Denver were sought as necessary to that inquiry and were the subject of questioning by the grand jury. In September, 1948, petitioner, in response to a subpoena, appeared before the grand jury. She testified that she held the position of Treasurer of the Communist Party of Denver until January, 1948, and that, by virtue of her office, she had been in possession of membership lists and dues records of the Party. Petitioner denied having possession of the records and testified that she had turned them over to another. But she refused to identify the person to whom she had given the Party's books, stating to the court as her only reason: 'I don't feel that I should subject a person or persons to the same thing that I'm going through.' 1 The court thereupon committed petitioner to the custody of the marshal

Page 369

until ten o'clock the next morning, expressly advising petitioner of her right to consult with counsel.2

The next day, counsel for petitioner informed the court that he had read the transcript of the prior day's proceedings and that, upon his advice, petitioner would answer the questions to purge herself of contempt.3 However,

Page 370

upon reappearing before the grand jury, petitioner again refused to answer the question. The following day she was again brought into court. Called before the district judge immediately after he had heard oral argument concerning the privilege against self-incrimination in another case, petitioner repeated her refusal to answer the question, asserting this time the privilege against self-incrimination.4 After ruling that her refusal was not privileged, the district judge imposed a sentence of four months for contempt. The Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed, 1950, 179 F.2d 559, and we granted certiorari, 1950, 339 U.S. 956, 70 S.Ct. 978.

If petitioner desired the protection of the privilege against self-incrimination, she was required to claim it.

Page 371

United States v. Monia, 1943, 317 U.S. 424, 427, 63 S.Ct. 409, 410, 87 L.Ed. 376. The privilege 'is deemed waived unless invoked.' United States v. Murdock, 1931, 284 U.S. 141, 148, 52 S.Ct. 63, 64, 76 L.Ed. 210.5 Furthermore, the decisions of this Court are explicit in holding that the privilege against self-incrimination 'is solely for the benefit of the witness,'6 and 'is purely a personal privilege of the witness.'7 Petitioner expressly placed her original declination to answer on an untenable ground, since a refusal to answer cannot be justified by a desire to protect others from punishment,8 much less to protect another from interrogation by a grand jury. Petitioner's claim of the privilege against self-incrimination was pure afterthought. Although the claim was made at the time of her second refusal to answer in the presence of the court, it came only after she had voluntarily testified to her status as an officer of the Communist Party of Denver. To uphold a claim of privilege in this case would open the way to distortion of facts by permitting a witness to select any stopping place in the testimony.

The privilege against self-incrimination, even if claimed at the time the question as to the name of the person to whom petitioner turned over the Party records was asked, would not justify her refusal to answer. As a preliminary matter, we note that petitioner had no privilege with respect to the books of the Party, whether it

Page 372

be a corporation9 or an unincorporated association. 10 Books and records kept 'in a representative rather than in a personal capacity cannot be the subject of the personal privilege against self-incrimination, even though production of the papers might tend to incriminate (their keeper) personally.' United States v. White, 1944, 322 U.S. 694, 699, 64 S.Ct. 1248, 1251, 88 L.Ed. 1542.11 Since petitioner's claim of privilege cannot be asserted in relation to the books and records sought by the grand jury, the only claim for reversal of her conviction rests on the ground that mere disclosure of the name of the recipient of the books tends to incriminate.

In Blau v. United States, 1950, 340 U.S. 159, 71 S.Ct. 223, we held that questions as to connections with the Communist Party are subject to the privilege against self-incrimination as calling for disclosure of facts tending to criminate under the Smith Act, 18 U.S.C.A. § 2386.12 But petitioner's conviction stands on an entirely different footing, for she had freely described her membership, activities and office in the Party. Since the privilege against self-incrimination

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presupposes a real danger of legal detriment arising from the disclosure, petitioner cannot invoke the privilege where response to the specific question in issue here would not further incriminate her. Disclosure of a fact waives the privilege as to details. As this Court stated in Brown v. Walker, 1896, 161 U.S. 591, 597, 16 S.Ct. 644, 647, 40 L.Ed. 819: 'Thus, if the witness himself elects to waive his privilege, as he may doubtless do, since the privilege is for his protection and not for that of other parties, and discloses his criminal connections, he is not permitted to stop, but must go on and make a full disclosure.'13

Following this rule, federal courts have uniformly held that, where criminating facts have been voluntarily revealed, the privilege cannot be invoked to avoid disclosure of the details.14 The decisions of this Court in Arndstein v. McCarthy, 1920, 254 U.S. 71, 41 S.Ct. 26, 65 L.Ed. 138, and McCarthy v. Arndstein, 1923, 262 U.S. 355, 43 S.Ct. 562, 67 L.Ed. 1023, further support the conviction in this case for, in sustaining the privilege on each appeal, the Court stressed the absence of any previous 'admission of guilt or incriminating facts,'15 and relied particularly upon Brown v. Walker, supra, and Foster v. People, 1869, 18 Mich. 266. The holding of the Michigan court is entirely apposite here: '(W)here a witness has voluntarly answered as to materially criminating facts, it is held with uniformity

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that he cannot then stop short and refuse further explanation, but must disclose fully what he has attempted to relate.' 18 Mich. at page 276.16

Requiring full disclosure of details after a witness freely testifies as to a criminating fact does not rest upon a further 'waiver' of the privilege against self-incrimination. Admittedly, petitioner had already 'waived' her privilege of silence when she freely answered criminating questions relating to her connection with the Communist Party. But when petitioner was asked to furnish the name of the person to whom she turned over Party records, the court was required to determine, as it must whenever the privilege is claimed, whether the question presented a reasonable danger of further crimination in light of all the circumstances, including any previous disclosures. As to each question to which a claim of privilege is directed, the court must determine whether the answer to that particular question would subject the witness to a 'real danger' of further crimination.17 After petitioner's admission that she held that office of Treasurer of the Communist Party of Denver, disclosure of acquaintance with her successor presents no more than

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a 'mere imaginary possibility'18 of increasing the danger of prosecution.19

Petitioner's contention in the Court of Appeals and in this Court has been that, conceding her prior voluntary crimination as to one element of proof of a Smith Act violation, disclosure of the name of the recipient of the Party records would tend to incriminate as to the different crime of conspiracy to violate the Smith Act. Our opinion in Blau v. United States, supra, 340 U.S. at page 161, 71 S.Ct. at page 224, explicitly rejects petitioner's argument for reversal here in its holding that questions relating to activities in the Communist Party are criminating both as to 'violation of (or conspiracy to violate) the Smith Act.' Of course, at least two persons are required to constitute a conspiracy, but the identity of the other members of the conspiracy is not needed, inasmuch as one person can be convicted of conspiring with persons whose names are unknown.20

Affirmed.

Mr. Justice CLARK took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Mr. Justice BLACK, with whom Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER and Mr. Justice DOUGLAS concur, dissenting.

Some people are hostile to the Fifth Amendment's provision unequivocally commanding that no United States

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official shall compel a person to be a witness against himself. They consider the provisions as an outmoded relic of past fears generated by ancient inquisitorial practices that could not possibly happen here. For this reason the provilege to be silent is sometimes accepted as being more or less of a constitutional nuisance which the courts should abate whenever and however possible. Such an end could be achieved by two obvious judicial techniques: (1) narrow construction of the scope of the privilege; (2) broad construction of the doctrine of 'waiver.' Any attempt to use the first of these methods, however, runs afoul of approximately 150 years of precedent. See Blau v. United States, 340 U.S. 159, 71 S.Ct. 223, and cases there cited. This Court has almost always construed the Amendment broadly1 on the view that compelling a person to convict himself of crime is 'contrary...

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776 practice notes
  • Murphy v. Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, No. 138
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 15, 1964
    ...but only if, after the disclosure the witness will be in greater danger of prosecution and conviction. Page 101 Rogers v. United States, 340 U.S. 367, 71 S.Ct. 438, 95 L.Ed. 344; United States v. Gernie, 252 F.2d 664 (C.A.2d Cir.). When federal officials are barred not only from introducing......
  • U.S. v. Harris, Nos. 89-3205
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • April 3, 1992
    ...Linn, 889 F.2d at 1374; Jackson, 879 F.2d at 90; Tarvers, 833 F.2d at 1075; Markowski, 772 F.2d at 364. 13 See Rogers v. United States, 340 U.S. 367, 375, 71 S.Ct. 438, 443, 95 L.Ed. 344 (1951) ("Of course, at least two persons are required to constitute a conspiracy, but the identity of th......
  • United States v. Spector, No. 21940 and 21883.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • December 14, 1951
    ...that the privilege claimed by the defendants here was not waived by testimony voluntarily given. Cf. Rogers v. United States, 1951, 340 U.S. 367, 71 S.Ct. 438, 95 L.Ed. 344; Raffel v. United States, 1926, 271 U. S. 494, 498-499, 46 S.Ct. 566, 70 L.Ed. 1054; United States v. Gates, 2 Cir., 1......
  • Rosato v. Superior Court
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • September 8, 1975
    ...to the source, he will be held to have waived the privilege as to all other facts connected therewith. (See Rogers v. United States (1951) 340 U.S. 367, 71 S.Ct. 438, 442, 95 L.Ed. 344; In re Howard (1955) 136 Cal.App.2d 816, 289 P.2d 537.) Farr is a clear example of such a waiver--by admit......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
773 cases
  • Murphy v. Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, No. 138
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 15, 1964
    ...but only if, after the disclosure the witness will be in greater danger of prosecution and conviction. Page 101 Rogers v. United States, 340 U.S. 367, 71 S.Ct. 438, 95 L.Ed. 344; United States v. Gernie, 252 F.2d 664 (C.A.2d Cir.). When federal officials are barred not only from introducing......
  • U.S. v. Harris, Nos. 89-3205
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • April 3, 1992
    ...Linn, 889 F.2d at 1374; Jackson, 879 F.2d at 90; Tarvers, 833 F.2d at 1075; Markowski, 772 F.2d at 364. 13 See Rogers v. United States, 340 U.S. 367, 375, 71 S.Ct. 438, 443, 95 L.Ed. 344 (1951) ("Of course, at least two persons are required to constitute a conspiracy, but the identity of th......
  • United States v. Spector, No. 21940 and 21883.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • December 14, 1951
    ...that the privilege claimed by the defendants here was not waived by testimony voluntarily given. Cf. Rogers v. United States, 1951, 340 U.S. 367, 71 S.Ct. 438, 95 L.Ed. 344; Raffel v. United States, 1926, 271 U. S. 494, 498-499, 46 S.Ct. 566, 70 L.Ed. 1054; United States v. Gates, 2 Cir., 1......
  • Rosato v. Superior Court
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • September 8, 1975
    ...to the source, he will be held to have waived the privilege as to all other facts connected therewith. (See Rogers v. United States (1951) 340 U.S. 367, 71 S.Ct. 438, 442, 95 L.Ed. 344; In re Howard (1955) 136 Cal.App.2d 816, 289 P.2d 537.) Farr is a clear example of such a waiver--by admit......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 firm's commentaries
1 books & journal articles
  • FEDERAL CRIMINAL CONSPIRACY
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Nbr. 58-3, July 2021
    • July 1, 2021
    ...(1st Cir. 2013))). For a comparison betweenwheel and chain conspiracies, see O’SULLIVAN,supra note 45.58. See Rogers v. United States, 340 U.S. 367, 375 (1951); Blumenthal, 332 U.S. at 557 (“[T]he law rightlygives room for allowing the conviction . . . without requiring evidence of [defenda......

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