Slagle v. Ohio

LOCATION: Annette Islands, Alaska

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)

CITATION: 366 US 259 (1961)
ARGUED: Feb 27, 1961 / Feb 28, 1961
DECIDED: May 15, 1961

Facts of the case


Media for Slagle v. Ohio

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 28, 1961 in Slagle v. Ohio

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 27, 1961 in Slagle v. Ohio

Earl Warren:

Number 184, no, Number 105, Laverne Slagle, et al., Appellants, versus Ohio, Mrs. Furry.

Thelma C. Furry:

If the Court please?

This is -- is a matter, involving the Ohio Un-American Activities Commission, during the time that it was in existence in the State of Ohio and calling witnesses before it.

Since that time that Commission has gone out of business, but some time ago in this Court I think the session -- the October term of 1958, we had a similar matter here called the Morgan versus the State of Ohio and Raley versus the State of Ohio, which involved the Ohio Un-American Activities Commission.

At that time, this Court made a ruling in a unanimous decision, eight justices participating, that in order for a witness to be found guilty of contempt of this committee, they must be ordered to answer the questions.

As a result of that decision, there were 19 cases altogether in Ohio pending.

As a result of that decision, all of the cases were reversed in the Court of Appeals level in the various counties throughout the State of Ohio, Franklin County, Summit County and we have the county of course, that was here, except that in Stark County, there were five defendants involved.

There, although those cases had been pending, waiting the decision of the Morgan case, the Stark County Court of Appeals said that that -- that they did not feel that this case was binding upon them, that the Morgan case was binding upon them, and they maintained the convictions.

The case was then taken to the Ohio Supreme Court, at which time they -- without opinion, merely stated that there were no constitutional questions involved and they refused to consider the question.

Now, how is this case involving the five defendants different from the cases that were before this -- or Court before and from the cases that were reversed in the other counties?

The prosecutor in this case, in his brief, claims that all five witnesses were present when the Commission in -- in the hearing room, when the Commission stated that there was an immunity statute in the State of Ohio and that there had been a decision rendered and therefore, when the chairman made the statement that this was notice to all five witnesses, that they were being granted immunity.

John M. Harlan II:

Does the statute -- immunity statute work automatically in Ohio?

Thelma C. Furry:

The State of -- Supreme Court in Ohio said that in the Morgan case.

They said that when a witness walks into a hearing, they are immediately clothed with immunity.

That is the gist of the decision in the State of Ohio.

That was the majority opinion, without any reference or any immunity being granted to the witnesses.

Now, at the time that these witnesses were in Stark County before this Commission, this was on October of -- 21st day of October, 1953.

On October the 13th, 1953, a Common pleas judge in Franklin County came forth with this decision, first -- for the first time, was the question about immunity raised.

Now, when these witnesses were before this Commission in Stark County, this was prior to the State Supreme Court's decision on the immunity statute.

So that when the chairman mentioned to the witness, I think the question was the along this line, “Did your counsel point you with the fact that the judge -- that there has been a decision that there is an immunity statute in the State of Ohio?”

I think the -- one witness that they said that to, said something to the effect, well, that's one judge's opinion.

And then later on, the counsel for the Commission themselves said this in page 92 of the record, when the witness, Mrs. Perry refused to answer a question, counsel further Commission said, “Well, I may point out that the ruling of the Court of Common pleas of Franklin County has ruled otherwise, but as you state in your opinion, that is just one man's view.”

As I started to say, this immunity statute ruling of the Franklin County Court was mentioned to two witnesses, when they were before the Commission.

The other -- this was an open hearing of course.

The other five witnesses may have been in the room or they may not have been.

They may have been able to hear it or they may not have been able to hear it, I don't know.

The record certainly does not state that they heard this reference to the immunity statute.

Nevertheless, I maintain that even though there was a reference to a Common pleas' decision about this immunity statute, this Commission at no time, offered any witness immunity and went on and said, “You are automatically given immunity if you answer these questions.”

Earl Warren:

Were either or both of these petitioners, one of the two that -- to whom the statement was made?

Thelma C. Furry:

This -- the petitioners here are -- include all five.