Hutcheson v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States Senate

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 369 US 599 (1962)
ARGUED: Nov 06, 1961
DECIDED: May 14, 1962

Facts of the case

Maurice A. Hutcheson, a president of a labor union, refused to answer eighteen questions before the Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field. Although Hutcheson appeared to be concerned about the state using his words against him in a pending state criminal trial, he specifically waived his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Instead, he argued that the Committee only wanted to expose his wrongful acts, and that this exposure would violate his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment because the Committee's questions acted as a "pretrial" of the state charges.

The United States District Court for the District of Columbia found the union president guilty of contempt of Congress. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the judgment. Hutcheson appealed the appellate court's decision.


Do questions at a Senate Committee Hearing that relate to the witnesses' ongoing state criminal proceedings violate Due Process?

Media for Hutcheson v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 06, 1961 in Hutcheson v. United States

Earl Warren:

Maurice A. Hutcheson, Petitioner, versus United States.

Colonel Wiener.

Frederick Bernays Wiener:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

The essential question in this case is whether a Congressional Committee in the course of pre-trying state criminal matters may force a witness to invoke the privilege of self-incrimination on pain of going to jail for contempt of Congress, if the he rests his refusal on the Due Process Clause.

More specifically, when the petitioner was called as a witness, he was then under state indictment.

The Committee said it would not question him regarding the subject matter of that state indictment.

It then asked him questions, affirmative answers to which would have been admissible at the trial of that indictment and he refused to answer on the ground that it would aid the prosecution unless be in denial of due process of law, and he was asked whether he claimed his privilege against self-incrimination, and he said no and he was asked whether he contented the due process included the privilege against self-incrimination, and he said he didn't know the answer.

Now, the prosecution says here that if he had invoked the privilege against self-incrimination, he would be in the clear, but since he rested his refusal on a -- an asserted denial of due process of law, he must go to jail.

Let me now state the facts in greater detail.

When this petitioner was called as a witness, he had -- he was under indictment, returned in the State of Indiana, the first count charging a conspiracy, the second count alleging bribery.

The dates of the acts alleged in the indictment were 1956.

The indictment was returned in Marion County, Indiana in 1958.

The Committee said specifically that they would not inquire into the subject matter of the Marion County indictment, but the Committee did inquire about matters between the date that the indictment was returned, and the date of the acts alleged in the indictment, namely, allegedly improper efforts in 1957 to head-off an indictment in Lake County.

Now, the subject matter of the inquiry, as stated by counsel for the Committee was this, page 23 of the record, top of the page, “We are inquiring into the situation in connection with the presentation before the grand jury in Lake County, Indiana; the intervention by certain union officials into that matter, and the part that was played by Mr. Hutcheson himself,” that's this petitioner, “Mr. Sawochka, the Secretary-Treasurer of Local 142 of the Teamsters, and Mr. James Hoffa, the international president of the Teamsters.”

There is a writ -- an issue here which I will deal with later in detail as to whether there was any relation between this inquiry and the indictment as I will indicate the prosecution now concedes such a relationship.

Following the background state that I have quoted, four witnesses were called and -- to testify about the Lake County activities.

Three claimed the privilege against self-incrimination.

One claimed the attorney-client privilege.

All those claims were respected.

Thereupon, the Committee called a man named Blaier, who was a codefendant with petitioner in the Marion County indictment, and when they asked him about the Lake County matters, he refused because it might aid the prosecution in the case in which I am under indictment and he was permitted to go on his way.

He was the second general vice president of the Carpenters Union, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

And then they called the petitioner, who is the general president, and he was asked about the Lake County transactions, he also refused to answer, but his ground for refusing is on pages 122 or 123 of the transcript was this.

“It relates or might be claimed to relate to or aid the prosecution of the case in which I am under indictment and thus be in denial of due process of law.”

Earl Warren:

How was that different from Blaier's refusal of --

Frederick Bernays Wiener:

There are only two differences, this petitioner added in denial of due process of law.

Earl Warren:

I see.

Frederick Bernays Wiener:

Now, there may also have been a difference, he was the president and the other fellow was the second vice-president.

Now, when he stated this quoted ground for refusal, he was asked, “Do you claim the privilege against self-incrimination?”

“No,” and he disclaimed that consistently and then he was asked, “Do you contend that due process includes the privilege against self-incrimination?”

He said, “That's a legal question, I'm not qualified to answer it.”