Curcio v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Plaquemines Parish Courthouse

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

CITATION: 354 US 118 (1957)
ARGUED: Mar 28, 1957
DECIDED: Jun 10, 1957

Facts of the case


Media for Curcio v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 28, 1957 in Curcio v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 260, Joseph Curcio versus United States of America.

Mr. Mezansky.

Samuel Mezansky:

May it please the Court.

The petitioner, the secretary-treasurer of a Local of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters was adjudged guilty of contempt of court by District Judge Noonan of the District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The contempt arose out of petitioner's failure to obey a direction of District Judge Noonan to answer certain select questions as to the whereabouts of the books and records of the local union in a grand jury investigation.

Petitioner's refusal is based upon the ground of self-incrimination and his privilege to remain silent under the provisions of the Fifth Amendment.

The petitioner's conduct was treated as a contempt committed in the actual presence of the Court.

And the petitioner was punished summarily and sentenced to six months imprisonment under Rule 42 -- 42 (a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

The petitioner was given the right to purge himself of the contempt by appearing before the grand jury and answering the questions.

The District Court held that the petitioner did not sustain the burden of establishing that the answers to the selected questions would incriminate him.

The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the order of District Judge Noonan and this Court granted certiorari.

The questions involved upon this appeal are, first, whether it was evident from the implications of the questions and the setting in which they were asked that responsive answers to the questions or an explanation as to why they cannot be answered would be dangerous because injurious disclosure would result.

And the second question relates to the procedure for -- in the hearing before District Judge Noonan.

The petitioner made several request for an opportunity to prepare a defense and produce witnesses.

He made several request for a complete transcript of the grand jury testimony.

Doesn't the Government concede that if the privilege is available, the answers would have been within the privilege (Voice Overlap) --

Samuel Mezansky:

That appears now for the first time.

And I'd like to go right to that.

Yes, I -- I think --

It seems to me it eliminates a large part of the case.

Samuel Mezansky:

That's correct.

On page 35 of the Government's brief, ninth line from the top, the statement is made that we do not deny in this Court that if petitioner had a personal claim of privilege in regard to such questions, the possibility of incrimination existed under the rule of Hoffman against United States.

So the Government upon this appeal takes a position different from the District Court and contrary to the opinion of the Court Of Appeals.

So in view of this very commendable concession, the issue presented now is a very narrow and legal one.

And that is whether the custodian of the records of a union may refuse on the ground of his personal privilege to answer questions as to the whereabouts of the union books which have not been produced pursuant to the subpoena.

As I stated, this was not the ground upon which the petitioner was adjudged guilty of contempt.

He was found guilty on the ground that he did not sustain the burden of establishing that the answers to the question would incriminate him.

Now, I think we should have a statement -- brief statement of the facts because we cannot consider this question of law abstractly without some relationship to the facts for --

Felix Frankfurter:

Please enlighten me.

Do I understand that the Court of Appeals sustained the conviction solely on the ground that the claim of personal privilege was made and that the claim of personal privilege was not well founded?