Sunday, November 17, 2013

Bronston v. United States case brief

Bronston v. United States case brief summary
409 U.S. 352 (1973)

Petitioner sought certiorari review of a decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which affirmed his conviction of perjury, under 18 U.S.C.S. § 1621, for giving an answer, while under oath during a bankruptcy hearing, that was literally true but not responsive to the question asked and arguably misleading by negative implication.

During a bankruptcy hearing, petitioner was asked whether he had ever held any personal accounts in Swiss banks. Petitioner replied under oath with an unresponsive and arguably misleading answer that the company of which he was an officer had held an account there. For this answer, petitioner was convicted for perjury under 18 U.S.C.S. § 1621, which was affirmed on appeal.


  • On further judicial review, the United States Supreme Court concluded that the legal sufficiency of petitioner's statement did not support a conviction of perjury within the meaning of the statute because, although petitioner did not answer the specific question posed, petitioner nonetheless believed his response to be true. 
  • Therefore, the jury should not have been permitted to decide petitioner's guilt on whether his unresponsive, yet facially true, answer was intended to mislead the examiner or was false by negative implication. 
  • It was the examiner's responsibility to recognize petitioner's evasion and to flush out the truth with the tools of adversary examination.

The Supreme Court reversed petitioner's conviction for perjury because, although petitioner gave a response under oath that was unresponsive to the question posed and was arguably false by negative implication, petitioner believed his statement to be true and thereby evaded criminal liability under the language of the federal statute.

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