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United States v. Costello.

decided: July 3, 1952.


Author: Hand

Before AUGUSTUS N. HAND, CHASE and FRANK, Circuit Judges.

AUGUSTUS N. HAND, Circuit Judge.

The defendant, Frank Costello, was convicted of ten*fn1 separate contempts of the United States Senate Crime Investigation Committee, 2 U.S.C.A. ยง 192, and was sentenced to a term of eighteen months imprisonment and to pay a fine of $5,000.

Counts 1, 3 and 4 of the indictment charged the defendant with refusal to answer the following questions: (1) "What is your net worth?", (3) "Do you owe any sums of money in excess of $10,000 to any person?", and (4) "What is the total indebtedness, Mr. Costello?" As to each of these questions, the defendant rested his refusal to answer on the ground that his answers might tend to incriminate him. At the trial the defendant conceded that the Committee was lawfully created and organized; that he was properly subpoenaed; and that the stenographer's minutes of the hearings were accurate. No question was raised as to the relevancy of the questions to the scope of the Committee's inquiry. The only issue presented was whether a privilege against self-incrimination was properly asserted. The court below ruled, as a matter of law, that it was not because the defendant had no "reasonable belief * * * that disclosure or answer would furnish evidence which would tend to incriminate him."

In the recent case of Hoffman v. United States, 341 U.S. 479, 71 S. Ct. 814, 95 L. Ed. 1118, the Supreme Court said that the claim of privilege should be sustained unless its is "* * * 'perfectly clear, from a careful consideration of all the circumstances in the case, that the witness is mistaken, and that the [answer] cannot possibly have such a tendency' to incriminate." 341 U.S. at page 488, 71 S. Ct. at page 819. We think it is fairly obvious that under this test, the privilege was validly asserted by the defendant and that the convictions under Counts 1, 3 and 4 must be reversed. The statements of the Committee's counsel as to the subjects concerning which he intended to examine Costello and the Committee's interim report, issued after Costello had testified in executive session as to his financial resources, which described Costello as one of the leaders of a major crime syndicate, let alone the obvious income tax implications of the questions asked, could have sufficed to create a reasonable apprehension in the mind of the defendant that his answers might be incriminating. The fact that the defendant had previously stated to the Committee that he "always upheld the Constitution and the laws" did not remove the possibility that answers to specific questions might incriminate and we think that a contrary inference was not permissible. See People ex rel. Taylor v. Forbes, 143 N.Y. 219, 230, 38 N.E. 303, 306, where the New York Court of Appeals, in an opinion by O'Brien, J., said: "The witness * * * [by affirmations of innocence] did not waive his right to remain silent when it was sought to draw from him some fact or circumstance which, in his judgment, might form another link in the chain of facts, and capable of being used under any circumstances to his detriment or peril." Nor did the defendant "waive" that right when he gave testimony as to his assets or when he agreed to furnish the Committee with a complete financial statement. The position of the defendant in that respect was not unlike that of the bankrupt in Arndstein v. McCarthy, 254 U.S. 71, 41 S. Ct. 26, 65 L. Ed. 138, and McCarthy v. Arndstein, 262 U.S. 355, 43 S. Ct. 562, 67 L. Ed. 1023. There the bankrupt Arndstein had filed schedules purporting to show his assets and liabilities and had answered certain questions relating thereto, but refused to answer over 400 other questions on the ground that his answers might be incriminating. He was committed to jail for contempt, and upon an appeal from the denial of a writ of habeas corpus, the Supreme Court in the first Arndstein case held that since the schedules standing alone did not amount to an admission of guilt or furnish clear proof of crime, "* * * the mere filing of them did not constitute a waiver of the right to stop short whenever the bankrupt could fairly claim that to answer might tend to incriminate him." 254 U.S. at page 72, 41 S. Ct. at page 26. The second Arndstein case dealt with the question whether the bankrupt had lost his privilege by having answered without objection similar questions relating to his finances. The court's holding was the same, in other words, that so long as the testimony voluntarily given did not amount to an admission or proof of guilt, the bankrupt "* * * was entitled to decline to answer further questions when so to do might tend to incriminate him." 262 U.S. at page 360, 43 S. Ct. at page 563. It is not contended here, nor is it a fact, that Costello's previous answers constituted an admission or proof of any crime; consequently, he did not by giving them destroy his privilege as to the questions he refused to answer.

The remaining counts of the indictment - 5 through 11 - relate to the defendant's conduct at hearings held on March 15 and 16, 1951. Counts 5 and 6 of the indictment charged the defendant with wilful default in terminating his appearance before the Committee without leave and in refusing on March 15, 1951, to give any testimony whatever pertinent to the question under inquiry. Count 7 was based on his failure on the same day to answer the question whether he was familiar with the testimony of McLaughlin. When he appeared before the Committee on the morning of March 15, his attorney stated that the defendant was too ill to testify and requested an adjournment of the examination. After colloquy between the Committee and his attorney, Costello refused to give any further testimony, saying: "You heard my statement through Mr. Wolf, and I stand by it, and under no condition will I testify from here in, until I am well enough." The chairman, Senator Kefauver, thereupon instructed Mr. Halley, the Committee's counsel, to proceed with the questioning of the witness and he was asked a question which he refused to answer, but instead reiterated his intention of leaving the hearing room. At that point, Mr. Halley instructed him as to the seriousness of that act and told him to obtain an affidavit from a physician if he was too ill to give testimony. Costello's attorney thereupon produced a physician's certificate which stated that the defendant was suffering from acute laryngotracheitis and that he should remain in bed. The Committee rejected this certificate and, after further colloquy, Costello was directed to answer the question*fn2 but he refused and left the room.

Count 8 of the indictment charged that the defendant had wilfully defaulted in refusing to give any testimony whatever at the hearing on March 16. Counts 9, 10 and 11 dealt with his refusal to answer specific questions on that date. On March 16 the physician, whose certificate had been presented to the Committee the day before, appeared before the Committee and testified that in his opinion Costello was capable of testifying for an hour or so a day. The defendant was then called before the Committee and informed of this testimony, but he presented another certificate, this time from his regular physician, stating that in the latter's opinion sustained conversation by the defendant would be dangerous to his health. The defendant requested an adjournment but the Committee refused and proceeded to question him, at which time the following colloquy took place:

"The Chairman. Well, let's try a few questions and see how we get along.

"Go ahead, Mr. Halley.

"Mr. Halley. Mr. Costello, did you have a meeting with William O'Dwyer in the year 1942?

"Mr. Costello. I refuse to go further with the questioning - answering the questions - until I feel fully well and capable.

"The Chairman. Mr. Costello, it wouldn't strain your voice if you just put the mike up a little closer so we could hear.

"Mr. Halley. Mr. Costello, do you know Mr. James Moran?

"The Chairman. Let's cut the cameras off. Let's not ...

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