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BLOOM V. ILLINOIS, 391 U. S. 194 (1968)

U.S. Supreme Court

Bloom v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 194 (1968)

Bloom v. Illinois

No. 52

Argued January 16-17, 1968

Decided May 20, 1968

391 U.S. 194


Petitioner was convicted in Illinois of criminal contempt and sentenced to 24 months' imprisonment for willfully petitioning to admit to probate a will falsely prepared and executed after the putative testator's death. His request for a jury trial was refused by the trial court. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed his conviction.


1. In view of the holdings in United States v. Barnett, 376 U. S. 681 (1964); Cheff v. Schnackenberg, 384 U. S. 373 (1966), and Duncan v. Louisiana, ante, p. 399 U. S. 145, the broad rule that all criminal contempts can be constitutionally tried without a jury is reexamined. Pp. 399 U. S. 195-198.

2. Criminal contempt is a crime in every essential respect; serious criminal contempts are so nearly like other serious crimes that they are subject to the Constitution's jury trial provisions, and only petty contempts may be tried without honoring demands for trial by jury. The progression of legislative and judicial restrictions on the unfettered power to try contempts summarily reflects this identity, and underlines the need to extend traditional protections to trials for serious contempts. Pp. 399 U. S. 201-210.

3. To the extent that summary punishment for criminal contempts preserves the dignity, effectiveness and efficiency of the judicial process, those interests are outweighed by the need to provide the defendant charged with a serious criminal contempt with all the procedural protections deemed fundamental to our judicial system. The power to commit for civil contempt and to punish petty criminal contempts summarily is unaffected. Pp. 399 U. S. 208-210.

4. When the legislature has not expressed a judgment as to the seriousness of an offense by fixing a maximum penalty, the best evidence as to the seriousness of the offense is the penalty actually imposed. Accordingly, petitioner, sentenced to a two-year prison term, was constitutionally entitled to a jury trial. See Duncan v. Louisiana, supra. Pp. 399 U. S. 210-211.

35 Ill.2d 255, 220 N.E.2d 475, reversed and remanded.

Page 391 U. S. 195

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