Bronston v. United States

PETITIONER: Bronston
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Paris Adult Theater

DOCKET NO.: 71-1011
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 409 US 352 (1973)
ARGUED: Nov 15, 1972
DECIDED: Jan 10, 1973

ADVOCATES:
Mr. Andrew L. Frey -
Sheldon H. Elsen - for petitioner

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Bronston v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 15, 1972 in Bronston v. United States

Warren E. Burger:

We’ll hear arguments this morning in number 71-1011, Bronston against the United States.

Mr. Elsen, you may proceed whenever you’re ready.

Sheldon H. Elsen:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case is here on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Petitioner was convicted on one count of perjury under the federal perjury statute, 18 USC 1621.

The appeal raises issues relating to the legal standards applicable under the federal perjury statute.

The conviction was affirmed in a split decision of the Circuit, two-to-one.

Now, the facts are quite simple and I will put them briefly.

The perjury arose out of interrogation in a hearing.

The alleged perjury, that is the question.

Warren E. Burger:

The alleged, yes.[Attempt to laughter]

Sheldon H. Elsen:

The hearing was in a Bankruptcy Court before a referee in bankruptcy.

The questioning was done by an attorney for one of the creditors.

The examination was under Section 21 (a).

Now, the petitioner had a company.

He was the sole stockholder and the president.

The company had filed a petition under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Act.

The purpose of the 21 (a) examination was to inquire into assets of the corporation.

Because of the petitioner’s relation to the company as president and sole stockholder, creditors and their counsel were entitled, if they so chose, to ask about his personal assets, and there is no dispute on that question.

Late in the afternoon of the examination, four questions were asked which are the subject of this case.

They are set forth at page 3 of our brief.

Two commercial questions were: Question: “do you have any bank accounts in Swiss Banks, Mr. Brontson?

Answer: “No, sir.”

Question: “have you ever?”

Answer: “the company had an account there for about six months in Zurich.”

The last two questions related to nominee accounts and they’re of no further consequence here.

The government did not dispute the truthfulness of either of these answers.

Mr. Bronston had had a personal bank account in Geneva, and the prosecution proceeded on the theory that he committed perjury by not saying so in answer to the second question, “have you ever?”

Now, it was undisputed that the account had been closed some-two years before the questioning took place and that it had been dormant for some-four years before the questioning took place.

There were no assets in the account and there had not been any assets beyond an insignificant amount since 1962, some-four years before the questioning, some-two years before the company filed its petition for an arrangement.