Umans v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Treasury Building

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 389 US 80 (1967)
ARGUED: Oct 11, 1967
DECIDED: Nov 06, 1967
GRANTED: Feb 27, 1967

Edward Brodsky - for the petitioner
Sidney M. Glazer - for the respondent

Facts of the case

Sam Umans was a certified public accountant. Between 1959 and 1961, the Internal Revenue Service audited six couples represented by Umans. According to Louis R. Deitsch, an IRS employee, Umans approached Deitsch before each audit to “work something out together on it”. They agreed upon a disallowance for each audit and Umans gave Deitsch an envelope containing $50 for each case. Five other IRS employees described similar transactions between the years 1961 and 1963, wherein smaller disallowances were given during audits followed by cash payments to the auditing IRS employees.

Umans and the six IRS employees, including Deitsch, were indicted in August 1964. Umans was charged with aiding and abetting IRS employees in receiving illegal fees. He was also charged with giving money to government officials. On March 25, 1965, Umans and the six IRS employees were re-indicted. The grand jury additionally charged Umans with giving money to government officials with the intent to influence their actions. The evidence before the grand jury consisted solely of an IRS agent summarizing statements made by witnesses who would later testify at Umans’ trial. At trial, Umans requested access to statements made by the IRS employees that they took bribes from persons other than Umans; the court denied this request and sealed the documents in question. The government’s case was based almost entirely on the testimonies of three of the IRS employees, including that of Deitsch.

Judge Sterry R. Waterman, writing for a unanimous United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, held that the trial court improperly instructed the jury on the intent element of Umans’ charge for aiding and abetting IRS employees, but that this instruction was not in plain error. He held that the instruction was not sufficiently prejudicial, noting that it was not objected to at trial. Judge Waterman did, however, reverse the sentence for giving money to officials, holding that this sentence could not be concurrent with the sentence for giving money to officials with intent to influence their actions. He noted that the charges were identical but for the higher requirement of proof in the latter charge. Looking to the statute itself, Judge Waterman determined that Congress intended to make the charge for giving money to officials a lesser, included offense.

Judge Waterman held that the trial court properly excluded the IRS employees’ statements about taking bribes from other persons from the record. He reasoned that it would have been within the court’s discretion to prevent Umans from cross-examining the IRS employees on this subject for impeachment purposes, as the government did not broach the subject during the employees’ direct examination. Judge Waterman also held that the government properly indicted Umans with hearsay evidence, holding that this evidence was competent. He dismissed Umans’ concerns about inconsistencies between the evidence presented to the grand jury and evidence presented at trial. He noted that Umans had access to affadavits used by the government to indict him; thus, he could have objected to any inconsistencies at trial, but did not do so.


  1. Did the trial court’s instruction on aiding and abetting government workers in receiving illegal fees constitute a plain error?
  2. Was Umans’ conviction for illegally paying officials included in his conviction for unlawfully influencing officials?
  3. Was the trial court within its discretion to withhold statements from the IRS employees wherein they admitted receiving bribes from other persons?
  4. Was Umans improperly indicted on hearsay evidence?

Media for Umans v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 11, 1967 in Umans v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 41, Sam Umans, petitioner, versus United States.

Mr. Brodsky.

Edward Brodsky:

If the Court please.

Petitioner is a Certified Public Accountant who was convicted in the court below of giving money to Internal Revenue Service agents.

He was named in 24 counts of an indictment for 12 separate transactions with respect to each transaction there were two separate counts in the indictment.

The Court of Appeals reversed three of the counts of the indictments so there were 21 counts remaining.

The evidence very briefly consisted of testimony from seven Internal Revenue Service agents who testified generally that they received money from the petitioner in connection with their audit of various tax returns.

The amount of money that they received varied from a low of $25.00 according to them to a high of $75.00 most of the payments were $50.00.

With that very brief statement of the facts, because we’re not complaining that the evidence in the trial court was insufficient, I will go immediately to my first point which is that the evidence before the grand jury in this case was insufficient to support the indictment.

Now the entire evidence before the grand jury in this case consisted according to the government’s characterization of an Internal Revenue Service agent’s brief summary of portions of affidavits relating to the alleged illegal payments made by petitioner.

The man who testified before the grand jury, I don’t know who he was, but from the record in this case he could not have had any personal knowledge about more than just a few of these affidavits.

In other words, the government puts a man before the grand jury who has no personal knowledge of most, if not all, of these pieces of paper that he’s summarizing, and then he briefly summarizes this hearsay, and that is the entire testimony to support this indictment.

Now the grand jury testimony itself is not a part of the record.

I know what it was because the government stated what it was in its brief in the Court of Appeals and the Solicitor General agrees that this is what the grand jury testimony was.

Now, I am arguing here that that evidence was insufficient on alternative grounds, either under petitioner’s Fifth Amendment right to be indicted by a grand jury, I think that right includes some kind of substance behind the grand jury indictment, or if this case does not reach constitutional dimensions then I would ask this Court under its rule making power to so hold.

Now it seems to me that I have two hurdles to overcome in this Court.

First, I must convince the Court that there should be some kind of a standard of evidence in these grand jury situations, a standard of evidence which is enforceable by this Court and by other courts.

Second, once I get beyond that hurdle, the question becomes what should that standard of evidence be.

Addressing myself to the first question, I think that the analysis can be made in this way.

Surely, I would think that everyone would agree that if an indictment is based upon no evidence, if for an example the prosecutor walks into the grand jury and says “Ladies and gentlemen, John Doe committed a crime, return an indictment.”

And it does inconceivably it could.

I think that all would agree that such an indictment would not be supported by this or any other court.

Potter Stewart:

Well you don’t -- you may be right, but there’s no case holding that is there?

Edward Brodsky:

No, not at all.

I’m just trying to make an analysis now.

Potter Stewart:

But I thought, alright just at the analytical level.

Edward Brodsky:


Potter Stewart:

That the cases have held that that is a matter entirely for the grand jury as to on what bases they’re going to bring in on that.

Edward Brodsky:

I think the Costello case in this Court certainly says that.

There is no question about that.