Brown v. United States

PETITIONER: Stefena Brown
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Illinois General Assembly

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 356 US 148 (1958)
ARGUED: Apr 04, 1957
REARGUED: Oct 22, 1957
DECIDED: Mar 31, 1958

George W. Crockett, Jr. - for the petitioner
Ralph S. Spritzer - for the United States

Facts of the case


Media for Brown v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - October 22, 1957 in Brown v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 04, 1957 in Brown v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 570, Stefena Brown, Petitioner, versus United States of America.

Mr. Crockett.

George W. Crockett, Jr.:

Thank you, Your Honor.

May it please the Court.

This case represents another facet of the problem faced by both lawyers and judges in determining when there has been a waiver of the Fifth Amendment privilege and when there has not been such a waiver.

Perhaps a brief statement of the facts, notwithstanding they're not in dispute, will serve to set forth the setting in which the legal issue arises.

The contempt citation arose out of a denaturalization trial in which it was alleged that the petitioner who was naturalized in Detroit in 1946 had been within the 10-year period prior to her naturalization, a member of the Communist Party, and that she had not disclosed such membership, and for that reason was guilty of having procured her citizenship either illegally or by fraud by wilful misrepresentation rather.

The answer filed by the petitioner denied these charges.

Now in the course of the trial, the Government called the petitioner to the witness stand and attempted to gain from her some admissions concerning her alleged membership in the Communist Party.

It is apparent I think from an examination of the transcript of that portion of examination that petitioner upon the advice of her counsel had decided to answer all questions that had to do with her activity prior to her naturalization in November 1946 under the theory that certainly any alleged incriminating facts would be outlawed, shall I say, by the statute of limitations.

But she had also decided not to answer any questions with respect to such alleged activities after November 1946 relying upon her privilege under the Fifth Amendment.

So that in the course of her direct examination by the Government, she admitted that in her youth, she had been a member of the Young Communist League, but that she become dissociated with the Young Communist League in 1935, the early part of 1935 which of course would be more than 10 years before her petition for a naturalization which was not filed until I believe it was August 1946.

The Government also asked her questions that had to do with the post-1946 period and as to all of those questions, she relied upon the Fifth Amendment and the trial court sustained her reliance upon the Fifth Amendment.

But I should like at this point to point out one fact.

There were several questions put to the Government in the course of this examination under the rule which were not in terms limited to the pre-1946 period and embraced both the pre-1946 as well as the post-1946 period.

For example, petitioner was asked whether or not she was acquainted with certain former communist who has become professional informers.

She was also asked if she knew what the Michigan School of Social Science is, a well-known Communist Party school.

Now those questions were not limited in time.

She answered with respect to each of those questions and it was after those answers had been given that she relied upon the Fifth Amendment and the trial court sustained her reliance upon the Fifth Amendment.

The trial court in sustaining that reliance refer to this Court's opinion in Blau.

But if we will examine this Court's opinion in Blau, we will find that this Court was adhering to the rule laid down in the Arndstein case, a rule that heretofore has been deemed applicable to everyone except the accused in a criminal case in determining when there is and when there is not a waiver.

I shall come to a more complete discussion of the rule in the Arndstein case later.

But I simply want to emphasize that notwithstanding petitioner had answered some of the questions that related to both pre and post-1946, the trial court sustained her privilege.

At the conclusion of the Government's case, the petitioner was called to the stand by her own counsel.

Here again, it is apparent from the examination of the transcript that a conscious effort was being made to limit her examination to the pre-1946 period.

As a result, she testified that during this period, she was never a member of a Communist Party, that she was a member of the Young Communist League, but that she left that organization in January 1935.

Now as frequently happens in some of these cases notwithstanding counsel is conscious of the time sequence, some of his questions seemed to ignore the time sequence, so that when he began to ask petitioner again concerning the truthfulness of the answers given in her petition for naturalization such as, “Would she take up arms in defense of this Government?

Does she belong to any organizations that teach and advocate the overthrow of a Government by force and violence?”

His questions were not limited in time and petitioner's answers to those questions were not limited in time.

For example, one question that comes to my mind was, “You answered that question in the negative in your petition and you say that was a truthful answer then?