GREEN V. UNITED STATES, 356 U. S. 165 (1958)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Green v. United States, 356 U.S. 165 (1958)

Green v. United States

No. 100

Argued October 21, 1957

Decided March 31, 1958

356 U.S. 165


After petitioners were convicted of violating the Smith Act and sentenced to fine and imprisonment, they were enlarged on bail pending appeal. After this Court affirmed their convictions in Dennis v. United States, 341 U. S. 494, the United States Attorney served their counsel with copies of a proposed order on mandate requiring petitioners to surrender to the Marshal on July 2, 1951, for execution of their sentences and with notice that such order would be presented to the District Court for signature on July 2. Petitioners were informed by their counsel that their presence in court would be required on July 2, but they disappeared from their homes, failed to appear in court when the surrender order was signed on July 2, and remained fugitives for more than 4 1/2 years. After they finally surrendered to the Marshal, they were tried in the District Court without a jury for criminal contempt, under 18 U.S.C. § 401 and Rule 42 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, for willful disobedience of the surrender order, and were convicted and sentenced to three years' imprisonment, to commence after service of the five-year sentences imposed for violations of the Smith Act.

Held: their convictions of criminal contempt and the sentences therefor are sustained. Pp. 356 U. S. 167-189.

1. Under 18 U.S.C. § 401, the power of federal courts to punish for criminal contempts, viewed in its historical perspective, includes the power to punish for disobedience of surrender orders. Pp. 356 U. S. 168-173.

(a) Section 17 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 attributed to the federal judiciary powers possessed by English courts at common law to punish for contempts of court. P. 356 U. S. 169.

(b) The Act of 1831 was intended to curtail the powers of federal courts to punish under the contempt power for certain conduct, not, however, of the kind involved here. It represented an effort by the Congress to define independently the contempt powers of federal courts. Pp. 356 U. S. 170-173.

Page 356 U. S. 166

2. The evidence was sufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt petitioners' knowing violations of the surrender order. Pp. 356 U. S. 173-179.

3. The District Court had power to sentence petitioners to imprisonment for more than one year. Pp. 356 U. S. 179-187.

(a) Section 24 of the Clayton Act of 1914 (now found in amended form in 18 U.S. C. § 402), providing that contempts other than those referred to in § 24 were to be punished "in conformity to the usages at law . . . now prevailing," did not freeze into contempt law the sentencing practices of federal courts up to 1914, but means that contempts (including that involved in this case) other than those specified in § 24 were to be tried by normal contempt procedures, such as trial without jury. Pp. 356 U. S. 179-182.

(b) Under 18 U.S.C. § 401, as under its statutory predecessors, the term of imprisonment is not subject to a one-year limitation, but is within the discretion of the court. Pp. 356 U. S. 182-183.

(c) Criminal contempts need not be prosecuted by indictment, since they are not "infamous crimes" within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment's provision that "No person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury." Pp. 356 U. S. 183-185.

(d) This conclusion follows from the long line of cases in this Court to the effect that criminal contempts are not subject to jury trial as a matter of constitutional right under Article III, § 2 or the Sixth Amendment. Pp. 356 U. S. 183-187.

4. Although federal courts, in dealing with criminal contempts, have a duty to exercise special care in applying their discretion to length of sentences imposed for commission of contempts, the three-year sentences here did not constitute an abuse of discretion on the part of the District Court. Pp. 356 U. S. 187-189.

241 F.2d 631 affirmed.

Page 356 U. S. 167

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