Namet v. United States/Dissent Black
Mr. Justice BLACK, with whom Mr. Justice DOUGLAS concurs, dissenting.
I believe it was error for the trial court to permit the prosecuting attorney in the presence of the jury to ask questions which he well knew the witnesses would refuse to answer on the ground of self-incrimination. And I cannot conclude that this error was not prejudicial to the defendant. Certainly the prosecutor must have thought the refusals to answer would help the State's case; otherwise, he would not have asked the questions that he knew would not be answered. One need only glance at the questions set out in note 3 of the majority opinion to see that, as people ordinarily reason, the jury would have inferred that the witnesses refused to answer so that they would not have to admit that they had been engaged in violating the gambling laws with the defendant. Indeed, a part of the court's charge, to which no exception was taken, left the jury free to infer this defendant's guilt from the refusal of the Kahns to answer the questions. [*] To my way of thinking, this is an unfair way of getting convictions and should not be condoned by the Court's treating these questions as minor lapses or by its speculation as to how good or bad the motives of the prosecutor were. Nor can I agree that the defendant either disregarded or acquiesced in the trial court's erroneously permitting the jury to be influenced by the witnesses' claim of privilege. Even before the witnesses were put on the stand by the prosecutor, defendant's counsel warned the court and the prosecutor that the privilege would be claimed, and later, when examination of the witnesses had begun, the court acknowledged not only the right to claim the Fifth Amendment's privilege under the circumstances but also the court's intention to sustain the claim if made. The court nevertheless allowed the Government to proceed with its examination, during which the jury heard the witnesses claim, and the court sustain, their privilege in refusing to answer several questions put to them. True counsel for defendant later tried, as any good lawyer would, to turn this bad situation to his advantage by referring to it. But this took place after the trial court had permitted the poisonous questions to be asked over the original objections. This was not acquiescence in error. I would reverse.