Yates v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: US District Court for the Central District of California

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)

CITATION: 355 US 66 (1957)
ARGUED: Oct 09, 1956 / Oct 10, 1956
REARGUED: Oct 22, 1957
DECIDED: Nov 25, 1957

Facts of the case


Media for Yates v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 10, 1956 in Yates v. United States
Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - October 22, 1957 in Yates v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 09, 1956 in Yates v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 15, Oleta O'Connor Yates, Petitioner versus United States of America.

Mr. Branton.

Leo Branton, Jr.:

May it please the Court.

This case of Yates versus the United States is a contempt case arising directly out of the Smith Act case which was just argued before this Court.

Mrs. Oleta O'Connor Yates was one of the defendants in the Smith Act case and was the only defendant who testified in that case.

Now, there were three contempt cases, three separate cases of contempt arising out of this case, all on behalf of the petitioner, Yates.

These three cases are so closely interrelated that I'm going to take a little time to give a rather complete summary of the facts of all three of these contempt cases even though this Court is only concerned with one of the three cases.

And I think that when you have heard the statement of facts as it concerns all three of the cases, you will see why it has become necessary for me to feel that I must burden the Court with discussing two cases that are not even before this Court.

At the time that the prosecution rested its case, all of the defendants with the exception of four defendants, rested their case without putting on any evidence at all.

Mrs. Yates was one of the defendants who chose not to rest but to put on a defense.

And she took the stand as the first witness for the defense.

William O. Douglas:

Only -- only one?

Leo Branton, Jr.:

Yes sir, she is the only one.

And she testified for approximately nine days on direct examination.

During which period of time, she testified fully and completely about everything that she had ever done as a member of the Communist Party, why she joined the Communist Party, what she did as a member of the Communist Party, what's her interpretation of the so-called classics were and how she felt in what her intent was so far as her being a member of the Communist Party was concerned.

On the first day of cross-examination, she was examined by the prosecutor until it reached a point why she was -- where she was asked questions for a number, all of which called for her identification of other people not on trial as members of the Communist Party.

She refused to answer any of these questions which called for identification of these people as members of the Communist Party.

And in doing so, she stated to the Court that she admits no disrespect, but that she felt in these times, the times on which the case was being tried that to identify a person as a member of the Communist Party might bring upon that person prosecution, persecution, illegal violence, the loss of a job, and the loss of many of the other privileges which citizens who are not a communist enjoy.

She was ordered to answer those questions by the trial judge and she answered in effect that as much as she would like to answer those questions as grim as the consequences might be for her refusal.

She could not bring herself to be an informer, that she felt that this was what the Government witnesses had been doing in the case and consequently she couldn't add to this kind of testimony and consequently hurt anyone else no matter how much disposition might hurt her.

Were all the people (Inaudible)

Leo Branton, Jr.:

As to the first four questions, all of them were people, three of the questions concerned one individual who was not a defendant and one of the questions concerned a -- one of the defendants who had already rested his case and her refusal as to that particular defendant was that he had rested his case and consequently, he had no opportunity to meet any evidence according to the record it has against him.

And she felt that she would be an informer in identifying him as a member of the Communist Party.

So as to all of the refusals, we get down to the one single thing, she would not identified people as members of the Communist Party.

Felix Frankfurter:

Is there any controversy as to the legitimacy of the questions from the point of view of admissibility?

Leo Branton, Jr.:

From the question of admissibility -- strict technical admissibility, I think that the questions were irrelevant and immaterial.

However, we have not raised that question here.

Felix Frankfurter:

That is -- that is not -- we assume the questions were properly put?

Leo Branton, Jr.:

I think we must.

Felix Frankfurter:

And that the Court would properly rule -- has properly ruled on that degree.