Sacher v. United States,
343 U.S. 1 (1952)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Sacher v. United States, 343 U.S. 1 (1952)

Sacher v. United States

No. 201, Oct. Term, 1950

Argued January 9, 1952

Decided March 10, 1952

343 U.S. 1


1.Rule 42(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure allows a trial judge, upon the occurrence in his presence of a contempt, immediately and summarily to punish it if, in his opinion, delay will prejudice the trial. If he believes the exigencies of the trial require that he defer judgment until its completion, he may do so without extinguishing his power. P. 343 U. S. 11.

2. During a turbulent nine-months' trial of eleven Communist Party leaders on charges of violating the Smith Act, defense counsel, in the presence of the trial judge and in the face of repeated warnings from him that their conduct was regarded as contemptuous, persisted in a course of conduct that was highly contemptuous and that tended to disrupt and delay the trial and possibly to cause a mistrial. Upon receiving the verdict of the jury at the conclusion of the trial, the trial judge, without further notice or hearing, immediately filed a certificate under Rule 42(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure summarily finding such counsel guilty of criminal contempt and sentencing them to imprisonment.

Held: this action was within the power of the trial judge under Rule 42(a). Pp. 343 U. S. 3-11.

(a) The word "summary" as used in Rule 42(a) does not refer to the timing of the action with reference to the offense, but refers to a procedure which dispenses with the formality, delay, and digression that would result from the issuance of process, service of complaint

Page 343 U. S. 2

and answer, holding hearings, taking evidence, listening to arguments, awaiting briefs, submission of findings, and all that goes with a conventional court trial. P. 343 U. S. 9.

(b) Neither the language of the Rule nor the reasons for permitting straight-way exercise of summary power requires immediate action. Pp. 343 U. S. 9-10.

(c) The overriding consideration is the integrity and efficiency of the trial process, and, if the judge deems immediate action inexpedient, he should be allowed discretion to follow the procedure taken in this case. P. 343 U. S. 10.

3. It is not necessary for this Court to consider the trial judge's charge that petitioners deliberately entered into an agreement to impair his health, since the Court of Appeals found the judgment amply sustained without this count, the sentences ran concurrently, and reversal on one count does not require reversal on the others. P. 343 U. S. 11.

4.Rule 42(a) does not deny a trial judge power summarily to punish a contempt that is personal to himself, even when it is not necessary to forestall abortion of the trial. Pp. 343 U. S. 11-12.

5. The sentences imposed in this case need not intimidate lawyers in the proper performance of their professional duties as trial counsel, for they know that, from any summary conviction under Rule 42(a), they have an appeal on law and fact to the Court of Appeals. Pp. 343 U. S. 12-13.

6. If its aid be needed, this Court will unhesitatingly protect counsel in fearless, vigorous and effective performance of every duty pertaining to the office of the advocate on behalf of any person whatsoever. Pp. 343 U. S. 13-14.

182 F.2d 416 affirmed.

At the conclusion of the trial in Dennis v. United States, 341 U. S. 494, the trial court, under Rule 42(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, summarily adjudged petitioners guilty of contempt while acting as counsel for the defendants during the trial and sentenced them to imprisonment. The Court of Appeals reversed some specifications of contempt, but affirmed the conviction and sentences. 182 F.2d 416. This Court denied certiorari, 341 U.S. 952, but later granted certiorari limited to one question. 342 U.S. 858. Affirmed, p. 343 U. S. 14.

Page 343 U. S. 3

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