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UNGAR V. SARAFITE, 376 U. S. 575 (1964)

U.S. Supreme Court

Ungar v. Sarafite, 376 U.S. 575 (1964)

Ungar v. Sarafite

No. 167

Argued February 24, 1964

Decided March 30, 1964

376 U.S. 575


An important prosecution witness in a state criminal trial was adjudged guilty of criminal contempt for his conduct as a witness in a post-trial hearing presided over by the judge before whom the contempt occurred at trial. A request for a continuance was denied, and the witness, himself an attorney, did not defend, arguing only that a continuance and a hearing before another judge should be afforded. The judge found the witness' exclamation at trial that he was being "coerced and intimidated and badgered" and that "[t]he Court is suppressing the evidence" to be disruptive contempt of court, and sentenced the witness to 10 days' imprisonment and a fine.


1. Criticism of the court's rulings and failure to obey court orders do not, on the facts of this case, constitute a personal attack on the trial judge so productive of bias as to require his disqualification in post-trial contempt proceedings. Pp. 376 U. S. 583-585.

2. The court's characterization of the witness' conduct during the trial as contemptuous, disorderly, and malingering was not a constitutionally disqualifying prejudgment of guilt, but, at most, was a declaration of a charge against the witness; nor can judicial bias be inferred from anything else in this record, particularly where nonsummary proceedings were held, dispassionately and decorously, after due notice and opportunity for hearing. Pp. 376 U. S. 586-588.

3. The question of a continuance is traditionally within the trial judge's discretion, and not every denial of a request for more time violates due process, even if the party thereafter offers no evidence or defends without counsel; whether a denial of a continuance is so arbitrary as to violate due process depends on the facts of each case -- here, there was no constitutionally inadequate time to hire counsel and prepare a defense. Pp. 376 U. S. 588-591.

12 N.Y.2d 1013, 1104, 189 N.E.2d 629, 190 N.E.2d 539, appeal dismissed, certiorari granted, affirmed.

Page 376 U. S. 576

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