SLAGLE V. OHIO, 366 U. S. 259 (1961)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Slagle v. Ohio, 366 U.S. 259 (1961)

Slagle v. Ohio

No. 105

Argued February 27-28, 1961

Decided May 15, 1961

366 U.S. 259


Appellants appeared pursuant to subpoenas before the Ohio Un-American Activities Commission, a joint state legislative committee, which was investigating subversive activities in Ohio. Each appellant was sworn and examined, and each objected to most of the questions propounded on the ground that an answer would compel him to be a witness against himself in violation of the Ohio Constitution and of the Fifth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. In most instances, the Commission apparently sustained or acquiesced in their objections, and appellants were not directed to answer; but in a few instances, some of them were directed to answer one or more questions, but flatly refused to do so, although they had both constructive and actual knowledge of an Ohio statute which forbade the use of the testimony of a witness before a legislative committee in any criminal proceeding against him. For refusing to answer certain questions, appellants were tried for contempt in a state court under an Ohio statute, and were convicted on some counts. Their convictions were sustained by an intermediate Court of Appeals; their appeals to the State Supreme Court were dismissed; and they appealed to this Court.


1. Since appellants failed to show that any timely insistence was made in the state courts that the state statute, as applied, is repugnant to the Federal Constitution, treaties or laws, the appeals are dismissed; but, since various constitutional claims were made below and renewed in this Court, and at least one of them raises questions of public importance, certiorari is granted. P. 366 U. S. 264.

2. The judgments against two of the appellants are reversed, and those against the other appellants are reversed as to certain counts and affirmed by an equally divided Court as to other counts. Pp. 366 U. S. 264-268.

(a) On the record in this case, to hold that these witnesses willfully and contumaciously refused to answer the questions to which they objected, but which they were not directed to answer, would deprive them of due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 264-267.

Page 366 U. S. 260

(b) The Court is equally divided as to appellants' contentions that (1) because the Ohio immunity statute does not afford immunity from federal prosecution, they could not lawfully be compelled to answer questions over their Fifth Amendment objections to them, (2) the questions which they refused to answer were not pertinent to the inquiry, and (3) the Commission's investigation was without legislative purpose. Pp. 366 U. S. 267-268.

170 Ohio St. 216, 163 N.E.2d 177, affirmed in part, by an equally divided Court, and reversed in part.

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