Edwin H. Helfant brought this action in Federal District Court to enjoin the Attorney General of New Jersey and other New Jersey officials from proceeding with the prosecution of an indictment pending against him in that State.
The District Court dismissed the complaint on the ground that the principles of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, precluded federal intervention in the state criminal proceeding. A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed that order and remanded the case to the District Court for a hearing on the merits of Helfant's request for a permanent injunction. 484 F.2d 1277. Upon petition of the defendant state officials (hereinafter the State), the Court of Appeals then set the case for an en banc rehearing. The full Court of Appeals held that a permanent injunction against the state criminal prosecution would be inappropriate, but, with three judges dissenting, nonetheless reversed the trial court's order of dismissal. The Court
The State filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, seeking review of the Court of Appeals' remand to the District Court for an evidentiary hearing and declaratory judgment on the issue of coercion. Helfant filed a cross-petition for a writ of certiorari, challenging the Court of Appeals' decision that permanent injunctive relief was not warranted. We granted both petitions to consider the propriety of federal-court intervention in pending state criminal proceedings in the circumstances of this case. 419 U.S. 1019.
Helfant was a Municipal Court Judge and a member of the New Jersey bar. He was subpoenaed to appear on October 18, 1972, before a state grand jury. There he was advised that he was a target of the grand jury's investigation into an episode allegedly involving corruption of the process of state criminal justice. Upon the advice of counsel, he invoked his constitutional privilege against compulsory self-incrimination and refused to testify before the grand jury. He was again subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury on November 8, 1972. On November 6, 1972, he received a telephone call from the Administrative Director of the New Jersey Courts requesting him to come to the conference room of the
In his federal complaint, Helfant alleged that at that meeting he was interrogated by the Chief Justice and other members of the Supreme Court concerning the subject matter of the grand jury investigation, including matters not then public, and was also sharply questioned about the propriety of a Municipal Judge's invoking the privilege against compulsory self-incrimination before a grand jury. The complaint further alleged that the Justices' questions were based on grand jury minutes that had been provided them by the Deputy Attorney General who was conducting the grand jury investigation, and who had been present in the conference room of the Supreme Court both before and after Helfant's interview.
The federal complaint went on to allege that as a result of this questioning Helfant, "fearing not only the loss of Judgeship, but for his accreditation as a member of the bar as well," indicated to the Justices that he would waive his privilege and testify in full before the grand jury. After leaving the conference room, Helfant did testify before the grand jury, denying any improper involvement in the episode under investigation. Some two months later the grand jury returned an indictment charging Helfant with conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice, compounding a felony, and with four counts of false swearing.
The federal complaint finally alleged that federal injunctive relief was necessary because it would be impossible
In Younger v. Harris, supra, and its companion cases,
The policy of equitable restraint expressed in Younger v. Harris, in short, is founded on the premise that ordinarily a pending state prosecution provides the accused a fair and sufficient opportunity for vindication of federal constitutional rights. See Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452, 460. Only if "extraordinary circumstances" render the state court incapable of fairly and fully adjudicating the federal issues before it, can there be any relaxation of the deference to be accorded to the state criminal process. The very nature of "extraordinary circumstances," of course, makes it impossible to anticipate and define every situation that might create a sufficient threat of such great, immediate, and irreparable
As the Court of Appeals recognized, Helfant's allegations that members of the New Jersey Supreme Court were involved in coercing his grand jury testimony must, for present purposes, be assumed to be true.
The New Jersey Constitution provides that the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court shall be the "administrative head" of all the courts in the State. Art. VI, § 7, ¶ 1. The State Constitution further provides that "[t]he Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall assign Judges of the Superior Court to the Divisions and Parts of the Superior Court, and may from time to time transfer Judges from one assignment to another, as need appears." Id., ¶ 2.
The New Jersey Supreme Court itself has explained that the State Constitution vests it with "plenary responsibility for the administration of all courts in the State." State v. De Stasio, 49 N.J. 247, 253, 229 A.2d 636, 639. "Thus this court is charged with responsibility for the overall performance of the judicial branch. Responsibility for a result implies power reasonably necessary to
It is clear, therefore, that the State Supreme Court, and particularly its Chief Justice, are vested with considerable administrative authority over the trial court that will initially determine Helfant's federal constitutional claims if the criminal prosecution is allowed to proceed. And, of course, those claims are predicated in large measure on charges of improper conduct on the part of some Justices of the New Jersey Supreme Court. It is impossible to conclude from these considerations, however, that the objectivity of the entire New Jersey court system has been irretrievably impaired so far as Helfant is concerned.
Helfant does not allege, and it certainly cannot be assumed, that no trial judge in New Jersey will be capable of impartially deciding his case simply because of the alleged previous involvement of members of the New Jersey Supreme Court. To be sure, it is conceivable that there might be a judge in the State who, in an effort to curry favor or to avoid administrative transfer to a less desirable assignment, would decide the case with an eye to the supposed attitudes of his superiors in the judicial hierarchy. But even if such a judge were assigned to hear Helfant's case, the right to a fair trial would be protected by the New Jersey rule that permits a defendant to disqualify a particular judge from participating in his case. See New Jersey Court Rules 1:12-1 to 1:12-3.
Although appellate review of a conviction at the trial level might ultimately reach the State Supreme Court, New Jersey requires judges personally interested "in the event of the action" to disqualify themselves. Indeed, disqualification is mandatory whenever there is any reason "which might preclude a fair and unbiased hearing
It is worth noting, furthermore, that four of the six Justices who attended the meeting with Helfant are no longer members of the New Jersey Supreme Court. Of the two remaining members, only one was alleged to have been active in the questioning. The other active interrogator named by Helfant, the then Chief Justice, is among the four former Justices who are no longer members of the court.
Moreover, it is not the New Jersey Supreme Court, or its members, but the Chief Justice, who is the "administrative head" of the New Jersey court system. Thus, it is the present Chief Justice who wields the extensive supervisory and administrative power relied upon by Helfant to support his prayer for federal equitable relief. And the present Chief Justice played no part whatsoever in the allegedly coercive meeting that forms the core of Helfant's constitutional claim. In sum, even if it could be assumed, arguendo, that the former Chief Justice and the other participants in the meeting with Helfant might have been incapable of impartially reviewing his case, there can be no such assumption of bias with respect to the new Chief Justice and the other new members of the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Although the Court of Appeals held that there was in this case "no reason to depart from the formidable general policy of `leaving generally to the state courts the trial of criminal cases arising under state laws . . . ,' " 500 F. 2d, at 1196,
This procedure closely resembles the course rejected by this Court in Stefanelli v. Minard, 342 U.S. 117. In Stefanelli the Court affirmed the refusal of a Federal District Court to entertain proceedings to suppress the use in
These precedents clearly establish that at least in the absence of "extraordinary circumstances" federal courts must refuse to intervene in state criminal proceedings to suppress the use of evidence claimed to have been obtained through unlawful means.
In short, the basic policy against federal interference with pending state prosecutions would be frustrated as much by the declaratory judgment procedure ordered by the Court of Appeals as it would be by the permanent injunction originally sought by Helfant. See Samuels v. Mackell, 401 U.S. 66, 73. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated, and the cases are remanded to that court with directions to enter a judgment affirming the District Court's dismissal of the complaint.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS took no part in the consideration or decision of these cases. MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN took no part in the decision of these cases.
" `It is of course conceivable that a statute might be flagrantly and patently violative of express constitutional prohibitions in every clause, sentence and paragraph, and in whatever manner and against whomever an effort might be made to apply it.' " 401 U. S., at 53-54.
The Court then stated: "Other unusual situations calling for federal intervention might also arise, but there is no point in our attempting now to specify what they might be." Id., at 54.
Gibson v. Berryhill, 411 U.S. 564, supplied another example of such "extraordinary circumstances." In that case the Court found it unnecessary to decide whether the rule of Younger v. Harris applies with the same force when state civil, rather than criminal, proceedings are pending because "the predicate for a Younger v. Harris dismissal was lacking . . . . [T]he appellees alleged, and the District Court concluded, that the State Board of Optometry was incompetent by reason of bias to adjudicate the issues pending before it. If the District Court's conclusion was correct in this regard, it was also correct that it need not defer to the Board." 411 U. S., at 577.