Sinclair v. United States,
279 U.S. 749 (1929)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Sinclair v. United States, 279 U.S. 749 (1929)

Sinclair v. United States

No. 748

Argued April 22, 23, 1929

Decided June 3, 1929

279 U.S. 749


1. By the procurement of the defendant in a criminal case and of others acting by his direction, the jurors, throughout the progress of the trial, were systematically shadowed by a corps of private detectives, each of whom, having at first identified his subject within the courtroom, would follow him closely while away from it. Jurors were thus kept under strict surveillance from early morning until late at night, whenever not actually within the courthouse. Investigations were also made by the operatives concerning encumbrances on the home of one juror and to determine whether another had indicated his views during the trial. Daily reports were made by the operatives to one of their employers.


(1) That such surveillance of jurors was a criminal contempt, under Jud.Code § 268, on the part of its instigators, although it did not appear that any operative actually approached or communicated

Page 279 U. S. 750

with a juror, or attempted to do so, or that any juror was conscious of observation. P. 279 U. S. 762.

(2) To establish misbehavior within the statute, it was not essential to show some act both known to a juror and probably sufficient to influence his mind. The reasonable tendency of the acts done was to obstruct the honest and fair administration of justice, and this is the proper criterion. P. 279 U. S. 764.

(3) The acts in question were sufficiently near the court to obstruct the administration of justice, most of them having been within the courtroom, near the door of the courthouse, or within the city where the trial was held. P. 279 U. S. 765.

2. A defendant in a criminal trial and others acting for him, when accused of contempt in causing the jurors to be shadowed, cannot exculpate themselves by proving like wrongful conduct, amounting to a practice, by the Department of Justice in other cases. P. 279 U. S. 765.

3. A refusal to call and hear very numerous witnesses offered by persons who had been convicted of contempt in the shadowing of jurors and who sought by such witnesses to prove like conduct of the Department of Justice in other cases in mitigation of their punishment held within the proper discretion of the trial court, the defendants having been allowed full opportunity to advise the court of their knowledge, beliefs, and state of mind by answer and affidavits and by the verbal statements of themselves and their counsel. Cooke v. United States, 267 U. S. 517, distinguished. P. 279 U. S. 766.

4. The language used in an opinion must be read in the light of the issues presented. P. 279 U. S. 767.

5. Where the court decides the fact and the law without the intervention of a jury, the admission of illegal testimony, even if material, is not of itself a ground for reversing the judgment. P. 279 U. S. 767.

Sup.Ct.D.C. affirmed in part, reversed in part.

Review of a Judgment of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia sentencing appellants for contempt.

Appeal was taken to the Court of Appeals of the District. Several questions of law were certified by that court, and thereafter this Court ordered up the entire record. The conviction is here reversed as to one of the appellants, William J. Burns, for want of sufficient evidence, but affirmed as to the others.

Page 279 U. S. 751

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