RUSSELL V. UNITED STATES, 369 U. S. 749 (1962)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Russell v. United States, 369 U.S. 749 (1962)

Russell v. United States

No. 8

Argued December 7, 1961

Decided May 21, 1962*

369 U.S. 749


The petitioners in these six cases were convicted of violating 2 U.S.C. § 192, which makes it a misdemeanor for any person summoned to testify before a committee of Congress to refuse to answer "any question pertinent to the question under inquiry." In each case, the indictment returned by the grand jury stated that the questions to which answers were refused "were pertinent to the question then under inquiry" by the subcommittee; but it failed to identify the subject under subcommittee inquiry when the witness was interrogated. In each case, a motion was filed to quash the indictment before trial for failure to state the subject under inquiry; but in each case, the motion was denied, and the issue thus raised was preserved and properly presented in this Court.

Held: the grand jury indictment required by 2 U.S.C. §194 as a prerequisite to a prosecution for a violation of § 192 must state the question which was under inquiry at the time of the defendant's alleged default or refusal to answer, as found by the grand jury, and the judgment affirming the conviction of each of the petitioners is reversed. Pp. 369 U. S. 751-772.

(a) The Congress which originally enacted, in 1857, the law which was a predecessor of 2 U.S.C. §192 was expressly aware that pertinency to the subject under inquiry was the basic preliminary question which the federal courts would have to decide in determining whether a violation of the statute had been alleged or proved. Pp. 369 U. S. 756-758.

Page 369 U. S. 750

(b) Many decisions of this Court arising under 2 U.S.C. § 192 have recognized the crucial importance of determining the issue of pertinency, and the obvious first step in determining whether the questions asked were pertinent to the subject under inquiry is to ascertain what that subject was. Pp. 369 U. S. 758-760.

(c) While convictions are no longer reversed because of minor and technical deficiencies which did not prejudice the accused, the substantial safeguards to those charged with serious crimes cannot be eradicated under the guise of technical departures from the rules. Pp. 369 U. S. 760-763.

(d) Omission from the indictments here involved of statements of the subject under inquiry deprived the defendants of one of the significant protections which the guaranty of a grand jury indictment was intended to confer -- i.e., they failed adequately to apprise the defendants of what they must be prepared to meet. Pp. 369 U. S. 763-768.

(e) These indictments were also insufficient to serve the corollary purpose of enabling the courts to decide whether the facts alleged were sufficient in law to support convictions. Pp. 369 U. S. 768-769.

(f) The deficiencies in these indictments could not have been cured by bills of particulars, because under 2 U.S.C. § 194, only a grand jury may determine whether a person should be held to answer in a criminal trial for refusing to give testimony pertinent to a question under congressional committee inquiry, and the grand jury itself must necessarily determine what the question under inquiry was. Pp. 369 U. S. 769-771.

108 U.S. App. D. C. 140, 280 F.2d 688; 108 U.S.App.D.C. 153, 280 F.2d 701; 108 U.S.App.D.C. 226, 281 F.2d 59; 108 U.S.App.D.C. 160, 280 F.2d 708; 108 U.S.App.D.C. 167, 280 F.2d 715; 108 U.S.App.D.C. 130, 280 F.2d 678, reversed.

Page 369 U. S. 751

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