YATES V. UNITED STATES, 355 U. S. 66 (1957)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Yates v. United States, 355 U.S. 66 (1957)

Yates v. United States

No. 2

Argued October 9-10, 1956

Restored to the calendar for reargument June 10, 1957

Reargued October 22, 1957

Decided November 25, 1957

355 U.S. 66


In the trial of petitioner and 13 codefendants for conspiracy to violate the Smith Act, petitioner testified in her own defense after the Government and all but four defendants had rested their cases. On the first day of her cross-examination, she refused to answer four questions about the Communist membership of a nondefendant and a codefendant who had rested his case, indicating that she would refuse to identify other persons as members of the Communist Party. For this she was imprisoned for civil contempt. On the third day of her cross-examination, she refused to answer 11 similar questions, stating that she would not identify others as Communists if to do so would hurt them or their families. The judge notified her at the time that he would treat these 11 refusals to answer as criminal contempts, and, after the close of the conspiracy trial, he found her guilty of 11 separate criminal contempts and sentenced her to imprisonment for one year on each, the sentences to run concurrently. In doing so, he stated that, if she would answer the questions within 60 days, he would be inclined to accept her submission to the court's authority; but petitioner persisted in her refusal.


1. The latter sentences were not for civil contempt, for the purpose of coercing answers to questions; they were for criminal contempt, to vindicate the authority of the court. P. 355 U. S. 72.

2. Petitioner was guilty of only one criminal contempt by her refusals to answer on the third day of her cross-examination, and punishment for that was not barred by the fact that she had been imprisoned for civil contempt for her refusals to answer on the first day of her cross-examination. Pp. 355 U. S. 72-75.

(a) The prosecution cannot multiply contempts by repeated questioning on the same subject of inquiry within which a recalcitrant witness already had refused answers. P. 355 U. S. 73.

(b) Even assuming that the unanswered questions encompassed several subjects of inquiry, each of the questions fell within the

Page 355 U. S. 67

area of refusal established by petitioner on the first day of her cross-examination, and only one contempt is shown on the facts of this case. Pp. 355 U. S. 73-74.

(c) However, her refusal to answer on the third day of her cross-examination was a continuance of her defiance of the court's authority, and it subjected her to a conviction for criminal contempt. P. 355 U. S. 74.

(d) Imposition of the civil sentence for her refusals to answer on the first day of her cross-examination is no barrier to criminal punishment for her refusals to answer on the third day of her cross-examination, since the civil and criminal sentences served distinct purposes, the one coercive, the other punitive and deterrent. Pp. 355 U. S. 74-75.

3. Petitioner's contempt convictions on all but the first specification are reversed; that on the first specification is affirmed, but the sentence on that conviction is vacated and the case is remanded to the District Court for resentencing in the light of this opinion. Pp. 355 U. S. 75-76.

227 F.2d 851 affirmed in part and reversed in part, judgment vacated, and case remanded.

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