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BLACKMER v. UNITED STATES

decided: February 15, 1932.

BLACKMER
v.
UNITED STATES



CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.

Hughes, Holmes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone; Roberts took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Hughes

[ 284 U.S. Page 433]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner, Harry M. Blackmer, a citizen of the United States resident in Paris, France, was adjudged guilty of contempt of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia for failure to respond to subpoenas served upon him in France and requiring him to appear as a witness on behalf of the United States at a criminal trial in that court. Two subpoenas were issued, for appearances at different times, and there was a separate proceeding with respect to each. The two cases were heard together, and a fine of $30,000 with costs was imposed in each case, to be satisfied out of the property of the petitioner which had been seized by order of the court. The decrees were affirmed by the Court of Appeals of the District, 49 F.2d 523, and this Court granted writs of certiorari.

The subpoenas were issued and served, and the proceedings to punish for contempt were taken, under the provisions of the Act of July 3, 1926, c. 762, 44 Stat. 835, U. S. C., Tit. 28, §§ 711-718.*fn1 The statute provides that

[ 284 U.S. Page 434]

     whenever the attendance at the trial of a criminal action of a witness abroad, who is "a citizen of the United States or domiciled therein," is desired by the Attorney General, or any assistant or district attorney acting under him, the judge of the court in which the action is pending may order a subpoena to issue, to be addressed to a consul of the United States and to be served by him personally

[ 284 U.S. Page 435]

     upon the witness with a tender of travelling expenses. §§ 2, 3. Upon proof of such service and of the failure of the witness to appear, the court may make an order requiring the witness to show cause why he should not be punished for contempt, and upon the issue of such an order the court may direct that property belonging to the witness and within the United States may be seized and held to satisfy any judgment which may be rendered

[ 284 U.S. Page 436]

     against him in the proceeding. §§ 4, 5. Provision is made for personal service of the order upon the witness and also for its publication in a newspaper of general circulation in the district where the court is sitting. §§ 6. If, upon the hearing, the charge is sustained, the court may adjudge the witness guilty of contempt and impose upon him a fine not exceeding $100,000, to be satisfied by a sale of the property seized. § 7. This statute and the proceedings against the petitioner are assailed as being repugnant to the Constitution of the United States.

First. The principal objections to the statute are that it violates the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. These contentions are (1) that the "Congress has no power to authorize United States consuls to serve process except as permitted by treaty"; (2) that the Act does not provide "a valid method of acquiring judicial jurisdiction to render personal judgment against defendant and judgment against his property"; (3) that the Act "does not require actual or any other notice to defendant of the offense or of the Government's claim against his property"; (4) that the provisions "for hearing and judgment in the entire absence of the accused and without his consent" are invalid; and (5) that the Act is "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable."

While it appears that the petitioner removed his residence to France in the year 1924, it is undisputed that he was, and continued to be, a citizen of the United States. He continued to owe allegiance to the United States. By virtue of the obligations of citizenship, the United States retained its authority over him, and he was bound by its laws made applicable to him in a foreign country. Thus, although resident abroad, the petitioner remained subject to the taxing power of the United States. Cook v. Tait, 265 U.S. 47, 54, 56. For ...


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