Blackmer v. United States,
284 U.S. 421 (1932)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Blackmer v. United States, 284 U.S. 421 (1932)

Blackmer v. United States

Nos. 200 and 201

Argued January 5, 6, 1932

Decided February 15, 1932

284 U.S. 421


1. A citizen of the United States residing in a foreign country continues to owe allegiance to the United States and is bound by its laws made applicable to his situation. P. 284 U. S. 436.

2. The power to require the return of absent citizens in the public interest is inherent in sovereignty, and what in England was the sovereign prerogative in this respect pertains, under our constitutional system, to the national authority, exercisable by Congress, to prescribe the duties of the citizens of the United States. P. 284 U. S. 437.

3. One of the duties of such absent citizens to the United States is that of attending its courts to give testimony when properly summoned, and Congress may provide for the performance of this duty and prescribe penalties for disobedience. P. 284 U. S. 438.

4. Questions of authority in such cases are not questions of international law, but of municipal law. P. 284 U. S. 437.

5. The Act of July 3, 1926, provides that, when the testimony of a citizen of the United States residing in a foreign country is needed by the Government in a criminal case, the court in which the case is pending may issue a subpoena to be served upon him personally by an American consul with a tender of money to cover his necessary expenses of travel to and from, and attendance upon, the court; that, if he refuse or neglect to appear as directed by the subpoena, the same court, upon proof of service and default, may issue its order directing him to appear before it at a designated time to show cause why he should not be adjudged guilty of contempt

Page 284 U. S. 422

and be punished; that this order may direct that property of the witness in the United States be seized and held to satisfy any judgment that may be rendered in the contempt proceeding; that, after such seizure, the order to show cause and for sequestration shall be served on the witness personally by such consul and shall be published in some newspaper of general circulation in the district where the court sits, and that, on the return day of the order, or later, proof shall be taken, and if the charge of recusancy shall be sustained, the court shall adjudge the witness guilty of contempt and impose upon him a fine not exceeding $100,000, which, with the costs, may be satisfied by sale of the property levied upon, to be conducted upon notice and in the manner provided for sales upon execution. In contempt proceedings for failure to obey subpoenas, held:

(1) The absent witness is bound with notice of the statute. P. 284 U. S. 438.

(2) The method provided by the Act for acquiring judicial jurisdiction to render a personal judgment includes due notice and opportunity to be heard, and satisfies the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 284 U. S. 438-439.

(3) Service of the subpoena in a foreign country invades no right of the foreign government, and the citizen has no standing to invoke such supposed right. P. 284 U. S. 439.

(4) The function of a consul in serving the subpoena and the order to show cause is merely that of an agent of the government for conveying actual notice to one of its citizens; it need not be sanctioned by a treaty. Pp. 284 U. S. 439-440.

(5) In criminal contempt proceedings, due process does not require that the respondent be present at the hearing and adjudication if he was duly notified and had adequate opportunity to appear and be heard. P. 284 U. S. 440.

(6) The contempt proceeding being valid, the provisional remedy of seizing and applying property to secure payment of the penalty is also constitutional. P. 284 U. S. 441.

(7) The fact that enforcement of the penalty may depend on seizure of property does not imply unconstitutional discrimination between those contumacious absentee witnesses who have property in this country and those who have not. Id.

(8) A provisional or final levy on property, as provided in the statute, to satisfy liability of the owner is not an unreasonable search and seizure. Id.

Page 284 U. S. 423

(9) The question whether the statute grants the right to subpoena foreign residents in criminal cases to the government only, and thereby violates the provision of the Sixth Amendment guaranteeing accused persons compulsory process for witnesses, will not be considered at the instance of a recalcitrant witness. P. 284 U. S. 442.

(10) Where the subpoena served was issued at the request of the government upon a statement as to the materiality and importance of the expected testimony sufficient to give the court jurisdiction to issue it, it binds the witness unless set aside upon proper petition, and the question whether the showing was otherwise sufficient cannot be raised in defense against proceedings to punish his disobedience as contempt. Id.

(11) It is not necessary that the subpoena issued under the statute show on its face that it was so issued. Id.

(12) Where a witness has been served with subpoena under the statute, and has defaulted, service of an order directing him to show cause, at a time and place stated, why he should not be adjudged guilty of contempt, and providing for seizure of his property to be held to satisfy any judgment that may be rendered against him in the proceeding, affords notice sufficient to inform him of the character of the charge and of the hearing at which he will have opportunity to present his defense. P. 284 U. S. 443.

(13) Where two subpoenas are issued for appearances at different times, a seizure of property in connection with the first is not vacated by the seizure of the same property in connection with the second. Id.

(14) A witness subpoenaed to attend on a day named, and not to depart the court without leave of the court or the district attorney, cannot excuse his refusal to come upon the ground that the trial did not begin on the day specified in the writ, but on a later day to which the case was continued. Id.

60 App.D.C. 141, 49 F.2d 523, affirmed.

Certiorari to review decrees sustaining fines imposed on the petitioner Blackmer as punishment for contemptuous disobedience of two subpoenas in a criminal case. The judgments provided that the fines be satisfied out of property seized after the subpoenas were served.

Page 284 U. S. 433

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