In re Chapman

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

156 U.S. 211

In re Chapman

This was an application by Elverton R. Chapman for leave to file a petition for the writ of habeas corpus. Petitioner represented that he was unlawfully restrained of his liberty by the United States marshal for the District of Columbia, and stated that on June 29, 1894, an indictment was returned against petitioner in the supreme court of the District of Columbia, holding a criminal term, based upon section 102 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, upon which he voluntarily surrendered himself into the custody of the court, July 2, 1894, and entered into a recognizance for his appearance as he might thereunto be required, and thereupon petitioner filed a demurrer to the indictment; that October 1, 1894, another indictment was found against petitioner under said section, which indictment was returned as a substitute for and in lieu of the former indictment, and a certified copy whereof was annexed to the petition.

The indictment averred that Chapman was summoned and appeared as a witness before a special committee of the senate of the United States in relation to a matter of inquiry before said committee, and that he refused to answer questions pertinent to the matter of inquiry referred to such committee.

The petition then alleged that petitioner, on October 11, 1894, filed his demurrer to the last-named indictment, together with a note appended thereto stating the grounds of the demurrer; that November 17, 1894, the demurrer was overruled, and petitioner required to appear and plead; that afterwards the court of appeals of the District of Columbia allowed an appeal from the order of the supreme court overruling the demurrer, and on December 14, 1894, the matter was duly submitted to the court of appeals and taken under davisement; that on January 7, 1895, the court of appeals gave judgment affirming the order of the supreme court overruling the demurrer, and requiring petitioner to plead to the indictment, and the cause was remanded by the court of appeals to the supreme court to be proceeded in, and is now duly pending in the last-named court.

The petition further stated that on January 18, 1895, petitioner was surrendered upon his recognizance, and committed to the custody of the United States marshal for the District of Columbia, and petitioner charged that his detention was unlawful, because in violation of the laws and constitution of the United States, and for want of jurisdiction in the court to make the order of imprisonment.

It was averred that the questions, and each of them, set forth in the indictment, and which petitioner declined to answer, were questions in regard to the lawful private business of petitioner, which he was not bound to answer, and was protected from answering by provisions of the constitution and laws of the United States, and were questions not authorized by the resolution of the senate upon which the investigating committee rested its authority; that the conditions under which the questions were asked were not such as authorized the committee to make search into the private affairs of petitioner, nor were they such as authorized or permitted the senate to demand or compel answers to questions which would disclose the private business of petitioner; that the refusal of petitioner to answer the questions was not a misdemeanor, within the true intent and meaning of section 102 of the Revised Statutes; that that section was unconstitutional and void, in that it attempted to transfer the power to punish acts constituting contempt of the houses of congress, respectively, to the exclusive jurisdiction of the criminal court of the District of Columbia; that if the section was not designed to transfer such jurisdiction to the criminal court, but was designed to add, to the power of both houses to punish for contempt, the power and jurisdiction in the criminal court to punish the same acts as misdemeanors, then the section was void, because in contravention of the fifth amendment to the constitution; that sections 102 and 103 of the Revised Statutes were to be taken together as parts of a single and indivisible scheme, and the provisions of section 102 could not be enforced in disregard of the provisions of section 103 consistently with the intention of congress, and, if section 103 was not capable of being executed, because unconstitutional, then section 102 could not be executed; that section 103 was unconstitutional, because compelling involuntary answers to questions put by committees of either house of congress, although the witness might decline to answer on the ground that his testimony or his production of papers might tend to disgrace him or otherwise render him infamous; and that upon these and other grounds petitioner's imprisonment was without any authority of law and in excess of the jurisdiction of the court.

Sections 102, 103, and 104 of the Revised Statutes are as follows:

'Sec. 102. Every person who having been summoned as a witness by the authority of either house of congress, to give testimony or to produce papers upon any matter under inquiry before either house, or any committee of either house of congress, wilfully makes default, or who, having appeared, refuses to answer any question pertinent to the question under inquiry, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars nor less than one hundred dollars, and imprisonment in a common jail for not less than one month nor more than twelve months.

'Sec. 103. No witness is privileged to refuse to testify to any fact, or to produce any paper, respecting which he shall be examined by either house of congress, or by any committee of either house, upon the ground that his testimony to such fact or his production of such paper may tend to disgrace him or otherwise render him infamous.

'Sec. 104. Whenever a witness summoned as mentioned in section one hundred and two fails to testify, and the facts are reported to either house, the president of the senate or the speaker of the house, as the case may be, shall certify the fact under the seal of the senate or house to the district attorney for the District of Columbia, whose duty it shall be to bring the matter before the grand jury for their action.'

The court of appeals held that section 102 was constitutional and valid; that the inquiry directed by the resolution of May 17, 1894, was within the power of the senate to execute by requiring witnesses to testify; and that the questions propounded to Chapman were pertinent to the subject-matter given in charge to the committee; and was of opinion that the indictment was good and sufficient. 23 Wash. Law Rep. 17.

Mr. Justice Field dissenting.

S. Shellabarger, J. M. Wilson, and Geo. F. Edmunds, for petitioner, chapmar.

Mr. Chief Justice FULLER, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion of the court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).