SILVERTHORNE LUMBER CO. v. UNITED STATES No. 358.
251 U.S. 385 (1920)
SILVERTHORNE LUMBER COMPANY, INC., ET AL. v. UNITED STATES.
Supreme Court of United States.
Decided January 26, 1920.
Mr. William D. Guthrie, with whom Mr. Henry W. Killeen, Mr. James O. Moore, Mr. Frederic D. McKenney and Mr. Myer Cohen were on the briefs, for plaintiffs in error.
Mr. Assistant Attorney General Stewart, with whom Mr. W.C. Herron was on the brief, for the United States:
This is a writ of error brought to reverse a judgment of the District Court fining the Silverthorne Lumber Company two hundred and fifty dollars for contempt of court and ordering Frederick W. Silverthorne to be imprisoned until he should purge himself of a similar contempt. The contempt in question was a refusal to obey subpoenas and an order of Court to produce books and documents of the company before the grand jury to be used in regard to alleged violation of the statutes of the United States by the said Silverthorne and his father. One ground of the refusal was that the order of the Court infringed the rights of the parties under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.
The facts are smple. An indictment upon a single specific charge having been brought against the two Silverthornes mentioned, they both were arrested at their homes early in the morning of February 25, 1919, and were detained in custody a number of hours. While they were thus detained representatives of the Department of Justice and the United States marshal without a shadow of authority went to the office of their company and made a clean sweep of all the books, papers and documents found there. All the employees were taken or directed to go to the office of the District Attorney of the United States to which also the books, &c., were taken at once. An application was made as soon as might be to the District
The proposition could not be presented more nakedly. It is that although of course its seizure was an outrage which the Government now regrets, it may study the papers before it returns them, copy them, and then may use the knowledge that it has gained to call upon the owners in a more regular form to produce them; that the protection of the Constitution covers the physical possession but not any advantages that the Government can gain over the object of its pursuit by doing the forbidden act. Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, to be sure, had established that laying the papers directly before the grand jury was
THE CHIEF JUSTICE and MR. JUSTICE PITNEY dissent.
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