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A witness cannot "pick and choose" the questions to which an answer will be given. The management of the trial rests with the judge and no party can be permitted to usurp that function. However, it is equally clear that the prosecution cannot multiply contempts by repeated questioning on the same subject of inquiry within which a recalcitrant witness already has refused answers.
In the trial of petitioner and 13 codefendants for conspiracy to violate the Smith Act, Yates testified in her own defense after the Government and all but four defendants had rested their cases. On the first day of her cross-examination, she refused to answer four questions about the Communist membership of a nondefendant and a codefendant who had rested his case, indicating that she would refuse to identify other persons as members of the Communist Party. For this she was imprisoned for civil contempt. On the third day of her cross-examination, she refused to answer 11 similar questions, stating that she would not identify others as Communists if to do so would hurt them or their families. The judge notified her at the time that he would treat these 11 refusals to answer as criminal contempts; and, after the close of the conspiracy trial, he found her guilty of 11 separate criminal contempts and sentenced her to imprisonment for one year on each, the sentences to run concurrently. In doing so he stated that, if she would answer the questions within 60 days, he would be inclined to accept her submission to the court's authority; but petitioner persisted in her refusal.
Can the prosecution multiply contempts by repeated questioning on the same subject of inquiry within which a recalcitrant witness already had refused answers?
In partially affirming, partially reversing, vacating Yates’ sentence, and remanding, the court held that the finding of a separate contempt for each refusal constituted an improper multiplication of contempts. The court found that only one contempt had been committed. The court noted every question fell within the area of refusal by Yates on the first day of her cross-examination.