Ullman v. United States

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350 U.S. 422 (1956), argued 6 Dec. 1955, decided 26 Mar. 1956 by vote of 7 to 2; Frankfurter for the Court, Douglas and Black in dissent. A federal district court issued an order under the Immunity Act requiring Ullman to testify before a grand jury that was investigating attempts to endanger the national security. Under the act, a witness could not refuse to testify on the ground that the testimony may have tended to incriminate him. The Immunity Act, however, gave the witness transactional immunity, which prevented state or federal prosecutions for any transactions or matters concerning the compelled testimony. Despite the immunity, Ullman refused to testify and was sentenced to six months imprisonment for contempt.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, Ullman argued that the Immunity Act violated the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. He argued that the act did not give him complete immunity because his testimony might lead to practical disabilities, such as loss of job, expulsion from a labor union, and public opprobrium.

The Supreme Court rejected this argument, holding that the act did not violate the Fifth Amendment. It observed that the privilege against self-incrimination protected a witness not from the disabilities described by Ullman but only from giving testimony that might lead to a criminal prosecution. By granting transactional immunity, the act removed exposure to a criminal charge. As a result, the reason for the privilege no longer existed and petitioner could not refuse to answer questions.

Daan Braveman

Subjects: Law.

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