Quinn v. United States,
349 U.S. 155 (1955)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Quinn v. United States, 349 U.S. 155 (1955)

Quinn v. United States

No. 8

Argued April 4-5, 1955

Decided May 23, 1955

349 U.S. 155


Petitioner and two others were summoned to testify before a congressional investigating committee. One of them refused to say whether he was or had been a member of the Communist Party, basing his refusal on "the First and Fifth Amendments," as well as "the First Amendment to the Constitution, supplemented by the Fifth Amendment." Petitioner adopted the other's statement as his own, and refused to answer the same question. The committee did not ask him to state more specifically the ground for his refusal to answer, and did not specifically overrule his objection or direct him to answer.

Held: in his trial for contempt of Congress under 2 U.S.C. § 192, the District Court should have entered a judgment of acquittal. Pp. 349 U. S. 156-170.

1. Petitioner's references to the Fifth Amendment sufficiently invoked his constitutional privilege against self-incrimination. Pp. 349 U. S. 160-165.

(a) The constitutional guaranty against self-incrimination must be construed liberally in favor of the right it was intended to secure -- especially in criminal trials for refusal to answer. Pp. 349 U. S. 161-162.

(b) An answer to the question whether he was a member of the Communist Party might have tended to incriminate petitioner. Blau v. United States, 340 U. S. 159. P. 349 U. S. 162.

(c) If an objection to a question is made in any language that a committee may reasonably be expected to understand as an attempt to invoke the privilege, it must be respected both by the committee and by a court in a prosecution under § 192. Pp. 349 U. S. 162-163.

(d) The mere fact that petitioner also relied on the First Amendment did not preclude his reliance on the Fifth Amendment as well. P. 349 U. S. 163.

(e) Petitioner's references to the Fifth Amendment were sufficient to put the committee on notice of an apparent claim of the privilege; and it then became incumbent on the committee either to accept the claim or to ask petitioner whether he was, in fact, invoking the privilege. Pp. 349 U. S. 163-165.

Page 349 U. S. 156

2. On the record in this case, there was not adequate proof of a deliberate intentional refusal to answer, which is an essential element of a violation of 2 U.S.C. § 192. Pp. 349 U. S. 165-170.

(a) This element of the offense, like any other, must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. P. 349 U. S. 115.

(b) Unless the witness is clearly apprised that the committee demands his answer notwithstanding his objection, there can be no conviction under § 192 for his refusal to answer. Pp. 349 U. S. 165-166.

(c) There is nothing in the record of the committee hearing from which petitioner could have determined with a reasonable degree of certainty that the committee demanded his answer despite his objection. Pp. 349 U. S. 166-167.

(d) By the enactment of 2 U.S.C. § 192, Congress did not intend to dispense with the traditional requirement that the witness must be clearly apprised that an answer is demanded notwithstanding his objection. Pp. 349 U. S. 167-170.

91 U.S.App.D.C. 344, 203 F.2d 20, reversed.

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