Cheff v. Schnackenberg, 384 U.S. 373 (1966)

Author: Justice Clark

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Cheff v. Schnackenberg, 384 U.S. 373 (1966)

MR. JUSTICE CLARK announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN and MR. JUSTICE FORTAS join.

This is a companion case to No. 412, Shillitani v. United States, and No. 442, Pappadio v. United States, 384 U.S. 364. Unlike those cases, this is a criminal contempt proceeding.

Upon petition of the Federal Trade Commission, Cheff was charged, along with Holland Furnace Company and 10 other of its officers, with criminal contempt of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The alleged contemnors were tried before a panel of three judges of the Court of Appeals without a jury. The corporation and three of its officers, including Cheff, were found guilty of violating a previous order of that court. Cheff, a former president and chairman of the board of Holland, was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment; the other two officers were fined $500 each; and the corporation was fined $100,000. The remaining eight individuals were acquitted. 341 F.2d 548. Cheff and Holland petitioned for certiorari. We denied Holland’s petition, Holland Furnace Co. v. Schnackenberg, 381 U.S. 924, and granted Cheff’s, limited to a review of the question whether, after a denial of a demand for a jury, a sentence of imprisonment of six months is constitutionally permissible under Article III and the Sixth Amendment. Cheff v. Schnackenberg, 382 U.S. 917. We hold that Cheff was not entitled to a jury trial, and affirm the judgment.


The case had its inception in proceedings before the Federal Trade Commission where, in 1954, complaints were issued against Holland charging it with unfair methods of competition and deceptive trade practices in connection with the sale of its products. After extensive hearings, the Commission issued a "cease and desist" order against Holland "and its officers, agents, representatives and employees" prohibiting the continuance of practices the Commission found illegal. In the Matter of Holland Furnace Co., 55 FTC 55 (1958).

Holland petitioned the Court of Appeals to review and set aside the order of the Commission. Soon thereafter, the Commission, claiming that Holland was continuing to violate its order, moved the Court of Appeals for a pendente lite order requiring compliance. On August 5, 1959, the court issued an order commanding Holland to

obey and comply with the order to cease and desist . . . unless and until said order shall be set aside upon review by this Court or by the Supreme Court of the United States. . . .

This order forms the basis of this criminal contempt proceeding. Meanwhile, Holland’s petition for review was decided adversely to the corporation. In separate opinions, the Court of Appeals upheld the jurisdiction of the Commission to enter its "cease and desist" order, Holland Furnace Co. v. FTC, 269 F.2d 203 (1959), and affirmed on the merits, 295 F.2d 302 (1961).

In March, 1962, the Commission petitioned the Court of Appeals to enter a show cause order against Holland for contempt of its pendente lite order. A rule was issued, and attorneys appointed to prosecute on behalf of the court. Thereafter, in April 1963, rules were issued against Cheff and the other officers, as individuals, to show cause why they should not be held in criminal contempt

by reason of having knowingly, wilfully and intentionally caused, and aided and abetted in causing, respondent Holland Furnace Company to violate and disobey, and fail and refuse to comply with

the order of August 5, 1959. Cheff demanded a jury trial, which was denied, and following a full hearing extending over a 10-day period the court found him guilty. As we have stated, a sentence of six months was imposed. In accordance with the limited grant of certiorari, there is no issue here as to the sufficiency of the hearing, excepting the absence of a jury.


Cheff first contends that contempt proceedings in the Court of Appeals which stem from administrative law enforcement proceedings are civil, rather than criminal, in nature. This may be true where the purpose of the proceeding is remedial. Cf. Shillitani v. United States, ante, p. 364. Within the context of the question before us, however, the contention is irrelevant, for a jury trial is not required in civil contempt proceedings, as we specifically reaffirm in Shillitani, supra. In any event, the contention is without merit. The purpose of the proceedings against Cheff could not have been remedial for he had severed all connections with Holland in 1962, long before the contempt proceedings were instituted against him. He had no control whatever over the corporation, and could no longer require any compliance with the order of the Commission. Moreover, as Cheff himself points out, the corporation "had completely withdrawn from the business of replacement of furnaces, which is the area in which the violation is alleged." There was, therefore, an "absence of any necessity of assuring future compliance" which made the six-month sentence "entirely punitive." Brief for Petitioner, p. 16.

There can be no doubt that the courts of appeals have the power to punish for contempt. 18 U.S.C. § 401 (1964 ed.). See e.g., cases cited in United States v. Barnett, 376 U.S. 681, 694, n. 12 (1964). And it matters not that the contempt arises indirectly from proceedings of an administrative agency. Cheff was found in contempt of the Court of Appeals, not of the Commission. The sole ground for the contempt proceedings is stated in the initial order served on Cheff and the other parties to show cause why they should not be adjudged in criminal contempt of that court, for violations of that court’s pendente lite order. Indeed, Cheff’s answer itself verified that he had not violated, disobeyed, and failed and refused to comply with "an order of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit entered on August 5, 1959. . . ." (Italics added.) In addition, the Court of Appeals itself was quite specific in limiting the contempt charges to "cover the period from August 5, 1959, to the entry of the final judgment [in October, 1961] by this court." 341 F.2d at 550. As the court clearly had the authority to enter its interlocutory order, Federal Trade Commission Act, § 5, 38 Stat. 719, as amended, 15 U.S.C. § 45(c) (1964 ed.), it follows that the court has the power to punish for contempt any disobedience of that order.

Cheff’s next and chief contention is that criminal contempt proceedings are criminal actions falling within the requirements of Article III and the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution.

Cheff’s argument is unavailing, for we are constrained to view the proceedings here as equivalent to a procedure to prosecute a petty offense, which under our decisions does not require a jury trial. Over 75 years ago, in Callan v. Wilson, 127 U.S. 540, 557 (1888), this Court stated that "in that class or grade of offences called "petty offences," which, according to the common law, may be proceeded against summarily in any tribunal legally constituted for that purpose," a jury trial is not required. And as late as 1937, the Court reiterated in District of Columbia v. Clawans, 300 U.S. 617, 624, that:

It is settled by the decisions of this Court . . . that the right of trial by jury . . . does not extend to every criminal proceeding. At the time of the adoption of the Constitution, there were numerous offenses, commonly described as "petty," which were tried summarily without a jury. . . .

See also Natal v. Louisiana, 139 U.S. 621 (1891); Lawton v. Steele, 152 U.S. 133, 141-142 (1894); Schick v. United States, 195 U.S. 65, 68-72 (1904); District of Columbia v. Colts, 282 U.S. 63, 72-73 (1930). Indeed, Mr. Justice Goldberg, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE and

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, took the position in his dissenting opinion in United States v. Barnett, supra, at 751, that,

at the time of the Constitution, all types of "petty" offenses punishable by trivial penalties were generally triable without a jury. This history justifies the imposition without trial by jury of no more than trivial penalties for criminal contempts.

According to 18 U.S.C. § 1 (1964 ed.), "[a]ny misdemeanor, the penalty for which does not exceed imprisonment for a period of six months" is a "petty offense." Since Cheff received a sentence of six months’ imprisonment (see District of Columbia v. Clawans, supra, at 627-628), and since the nature of criminal contempt, an offense sui generis, does not, of itself, warrant treatment otherwise (cf. District of Columbia v. Colts, supra), Cheff’s offense can be treated only as "petty" in the eyes of the statute and our prior decisions. We conclude therefore that Cheff was properly convicted without a jury. At the same time, we recognize that, by limiting our opinion to those cases where a sentence not exceeding six months is imposed, we leave the federal courts at sea in instances involving greater sentences. Effective administration compels us to express a view on that point. Therefore, in the exercise of the Court’s supervisory power and under the peculiar power of the federal courts to revise sentences in contempt cases, we rule further that sentences exceeding six months for criminal contempt may not be imposed by federal courts absent a jury trial or waiver thereof. Nothing we have said, however, restricts the power of a reviewing court, in appropriate circumstances, to revise sentences in contempt cases tried with or without juries.

The judgment in this case is


MR. JUSTICE STEWART, joining Part I of MR. JUSTICE HARLAN’s separate opinion, concurs in the result.

MR. JUSTICE WHITE took no part in the decision of this case.

* The relevant portions of these provisions declare:

"The trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury. . . ." Art. III, § 2.

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury. . . ." Sixth Amendment.


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Chicago: Clark, "Clark, J., Lead Opinion," Cheff v. Schnackenberg, 384 U.S. 373 (1966) in 384 U.S. 373 384 U.S. 376–384 U.S. 380. Original Sources, accessed January 27, 2023,

MLA: Clark. "Clark, J., Lead Opinion." Cheff v. Schnackenberg, 384 U.S. 373 (1966), in 384 U.S. 373, pp. 384 U.S. 376–384 U.S. 380. Original Sources. 27 Jan. 2023.

Harvard: Clark, 'Clark, J., Lead Opinion' in Cheff v. Schnackenberg, 384 U.S. 373 (1966). cited in 1966, 384 U.S. 373, pp.384 U.S. 376–384 U.S. 380. Original Sources, retrieved 27 January 2023, from