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UNITED STATES V. WILSON, 421 U. S. 309 (1975)

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Wilson, 421 U.S. 309 (1975)

United States v. Wilson

No. 73-1162

Argued December 17, 1974

Decided May 19, 1975

421 U.S. 309


Respondents, who had been charged, along with one Anderson, in separate indictments for separate bank robberies and who pleaded guilty, were summoned as prosecution witnesses at Anderson's trial, but refused to testify on Fifth Amendment grounds and still refused to do so after being granted immunity and ordered to testify. The District Court then summarily held them in contempt under Fed.Rule Crim.Proc. 42(a), which permits summary criminal contempt punishment "if the judge certifies that he saw or heard the conduct constituting the contempt and that it was committed in the actual presence of the court." The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the use of the summary contempt power under Rule 42(a) was improper, and remanded for proceedings under Rule 42(b), which calls for disposition of criminal contempt only after notice and hearing and "a reasonable time for the preparation of the defense."

Held: The District Court properly imposed summary contempt punishment under the circumstances. Harris v. United States, 382 U. S. 162, distinguished. Pp. 421 U. S. 314-319.

(a) Respondents' refusals to answer, although not delivered disrespectfully, fall within Rule 42(a)'s express language, and plainly constitute conduct contemptuous of judicial authority, since they were intentional obstructions of court proceedings that literally disrupted the progress of the trial, and hence the orderly administration of justice. Pp. 421 U. S. 314-316.

(b) The face-to-face refusal to comply with the court's order itself constituted an affront to the court, and when that kind of refusal disrupts and frustrates an ongoing trial, as it did here, summary contempt must be available to vindicate the court's authority, as well as to provide the recalcitrant witness with some incentive to testify. P. 421 U. S. 316.

(c) Harris v. United States, supra, involved a refusal to answer before a grand jury, where, unlike an ongoing trial, time generally is not of the essence, because the grand jury may turn to other matters during any delay. Pp. 421 U. S. 318-319.

488 F.2d 1231, reversed.

Page 421 U. S. 310

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 421 U. S. 320. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting pinion, in which DOUGLAS and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 421 U. S. 322.

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