Brown v. Walker
161 U.S. 591 (1896)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Brown v. Walker, 161 U.S. 591 (1896)

Brown v. Walker

No. 765

Argued January 23, 1896

Decided March 23, 1896

161 U.S. 591

Syllabus

The provision in the Act of February 11, 1893, c. 83, 27 Stat. 443,

"that no person shall be excused from attending and testifying or from producing books, papers, tariffs, contracts, agreements, and documents before the Interstate Commerce Commission, or in obedience to the subpoena of the Commission, on the ground or for the reason that the testimony or evidence, documentary or otherwise, required of him may tend to criminate him or subject him to a penalty or forfeiture: but no person shall be prosecuted or subjected to any penalty or forfeiture for or on account of any transaction, matter or thing concerning which he may testify, or produce evidence, documentary or otherwise, before said Commission or in obedience to its subpoena, or the subpoena of either of them, or in any such case or proceeding,"

affords absolute immunity against prosecution, Federal or state, for the offence to which the question relates, and deprives the witness of his constitutional right to refuse to answer.

This was an appeal from an order of the Circuit Court, made upon the return of a writ of habeas corpus, remanding the petitioner, Brown, to the custody of the marshal, the respondent in this case.

Page 161 U. S. 592

It appeared that the petitioner had been subpoenaed as a witness before the grand jury, at a term of the district court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, to testify in relation to a charge then under investigation by that body against certain officers and agents of the Alleghany Valley Railway Company, for an alleged violation of the Interstate Commerce Act. Brown, the appellant, appeared for examination, in response to the subpoena, and was sworn. After testifying that he was auditor of the railway company, and that it was his duty to audit the accounts of the various officers of the company, as well as the accounts of the freight department of such company during the years 1894 and 1895, he was asked the question:

"Do you know whether or not the Alleghany Valley Railway Company transported, for the Union Coal Company, during the months of July, August, and September, 1894, coal, from any point on the Low Grade Division of said railroad company to Buffalo, at a less rate than the established rates in force between the terminal points at the time of such transportation?"

To this question, he answered:

"That question, with all respect to the grand jury and yourself, I must decline to answer for the reason that my answer would tend to accuse and incriminate myself."

He was then asked:

"Do you know whether the Alleghany Valley Railway Company, during the year 1894, paid to the Union Coal Company any rebate, refund, or commission on coal transported by said railroad company, from points on its Low Grade Division, to Buffalo, whereby the Union Coal Company obtained a transportation of such coal between the said terminal points at a less rate than the open tariff rate, or the rate established by said company? If you have such knowledge, state the amount of such rebates or drawbacks or commissions paid, to whom paid, the date of the same, and on what shipments, and state fully all the particulars within your knowledge relating to such transaction or transactions."

Answer: "That question I must also decline to answer for the reason already given."

Page 161 U. S. 593

The grand jury reported these questions and answers to the court, and prayed for such order as to the court might seem meet and proper. Upon the presentation of this report, Brown was ordered to appear and show cause why he should not answer the said questions or be adjudged in contempt, and, upon the hearing of the rule to show cause, it was found that his excuses were insufficient, and he was directed to appear and answer the questions, which he declined to do. Whereupon he was adjudged to be in contempt and ordered to pay a fine of five dollars, and to be taken into custody until he should have answered the questions.

He thereupon petitioned the Circuit Court for a writ of habeas corpus, stating, in his petition, the substance of the above facts. The writ was issued, petitioner was produced in court, the hearing was had, and, on the 11th day of September, 1895, it was ordered that the petition be dismissed, the writ of habeas corpus discharged, and the petitioner remanded to the custody of the marshal.

From that judgment, Brown appealed to this Court.

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