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UNITED STATES v. KEENEY

March 17, 1953

UNITED STATES
v.
KEENEY



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOLTZOFF

In view of the importance and the novel character of the questions presented in this case, the Court will state its views on the motion for a judgment of acquittal, made by defense counsel, somewhat more fully than it ordinarily does.

This is a prosecution for a contempt of Congress brought under U.S.C.A., Title 2, Section 192, the contempt consisting of a refusal on the part of the defendant to answer a question, while testifying before a Special Subcommittee of the Committee on the Judiciary of the United States Senate on February 25, 1952.

 The question which the witness, who is the defendant here, refused to answer was the following:

 'Did anyone in the State Department aid you in obtaining employment with the United Nations?'

 At the time the testimony was given the defendant was not an employee of the United Nations, but she had been such an employee at a previous time. She declined to answer the question on the ground that she was forbidden to do so by the rules and regulations of the United Nations, in other words, that in effect the information called for by the question was privileged. The subcommittee directed her to answer but she persisted in her refusal.

 The first and principal question to be determined on the defendant's motion for a judgment of acquittal is whether the information sought was in fact privileged and whether, therefore, the defendant had a right to refuse to answer.

 The subject of privileged communications is within the field of municipal law and is governed by the law of the United States and not by any principle of international law. Under the law of the United States privileged communications are strictly limited to a few well-defined categories, such as communications between attorney and client; clergyman and penitent, and physician and patient. In addition, there is a well-recognized privilege in respect to certain official documents, as well as a privilege accorded to law-enforcement officers to decline to reveal confidential sources of information. The law does not recognize that communications between an employer and employee are privileged, even though there may be a moral duty not to disclose such communications except when ordered by a competent tribunal.

 Consequently, under the general law of the United States there is no privilege such as is sought to be invoked in this case. The United Nations is not clothed with the power to legislate on matters in the realm of municipal law of the United States. This proposition is axiomatic and may be stated without disparaging or detracting from the tremendous importance and vital significance of this international organization.

 It is true that certain limited privileges and immunities are accorded to the United Nations, and in ruling upon the motion before the Court it is necessary to consider them. The Charter of the United Nations, 59 Stat. 1035, which is a treaty to which the United States is a party and is, therefore, a part of the law of the land, contains in Article 105 a provision that:

 'Representatives of the Members of the United Nations and officials of the Organization shall similarly enjoy such privileges and immunities as are necessary for the independent exercise of their functions in connection with the Organization.'

 Pursuant to this general provision the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a regulation known as Regulation 5, which reads as follows:

 'Members of the staff shall exercise the utmost discretion in regard to all matters of official business. They shall not communicate to any person any unpublished information known to them by reason of their official position except in the course of their duties or by authorization of the Secretary-General.'

 There was adopted and promulgated by the United Nations Organization a rule known as staff rule No. 7, which reads as follows:

 'Staff members shall exercise the utmost discretion in regard to all matters of official business. They shall not communicate to any other person any unpublished information known to them by reason of their official position, except in the course of their duties or by authorization of the ...


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