ALFORD V. UNITED STATES, 282 U. S. 687 (1931)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Alford v. United States, 282 U.S. 687 (1931)

Alford v. United States

No. 370

Argued January 6, 1931

Decided February 24, 1931

282 U.S. 687


1. Cross-examination of a witness is a matter of right. P. 282 U. S. 691.

2. Its permissible purposes include the identification of the witness with his environment and the revelation of facts tending to discredit his testimony. P. 282 U. S. 691.

3. The rule that the examiner must indicate the purpose of his inquiry does not, in general, apply to cross-examination. P. 282 U. S. 692.

4. The extent of cross-examination with respect to an appropriate subject of inquiry is within the sound discretion of the trial court. P. 282 U. S. 694.

5. Although it is the duty of the court to protect a witness from questions which go beyond the bounds of proper cross-examination merely to harass, annoy or humiliate him, there is no duty to protect him from being discredited, except when his constitutional right against self-incrimination is involved and properly invoked. P. 282 U. S. 694.

6. In a criminal prosecution for using the mails to defraud in violation of § 215 of the Criminal Code, the Government called as a witness a former employee of the defendant, who testified to uncorroborated conversations of the defendant of a damaging character. Upon cross-examination, the witness was asked "Where do you live?," and another question as to his place of residence, but these questions were excluded on the Government's objection that they were immaterial and not proper cross-examination. Counsel urged as an additional reason for asking the excluded questions that he had been informed that the witness was then in the custody of the federal authorities, and that such fact might be brought out on cross-examination to show whatever bias or prejudice the witness might have. But the court adhered to its previous ruling.


(1) The case was a proper one for searching cross-examination, and the question "Where do you live?" was not only an appropriate preliminary to the cross-examination, but, on its face, was an essential step in identifying the witness with his environment. P. 282 U. S. 692.

(2) The defense was entitled to show by cross-examination that the testimony of the witness was affected by fear or favor growing out of his detention, and it was immaterial whether he was in

Page 282 U. S. 688

custody because of his participation in the transaction for which the defendant was indicted or for some other offense. P. 282 U. S. 693.

(3) The ruling of the trial court, cutting off in limine 11 inquiry on a subject with respect to which the defense was entitled to a reasonable cross-examination, was an abuse of discretion and prejudicial error. P. 282 U. S. 694.

41 F.2d 157 reversed.

Certiorari, post, p. 826, to review a judgment affirming a judgment of the district court, wherein the petitioner was convicted for using the mails to defraud.

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