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

Author: U.S. Supreme Court

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

Cheff v. Schnackenberg

No. 67

Argued March 3, 1966
Decided June 6, 1966
384 U.S. 373



The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) following hearings issued a cease-and-desist order against a company "and its officers, agents, representatives and employees" prohibiting the continuance of practices it found illegal. The company petitioned the Court of Appeals to review and set aside the order. Claiming that the company continued to violate the order, the FTC moved for a pendente lite compliance order, which the court issued. Following opinions by the Court of Appeals upholding the FTC’s jurisdiction to enter the order and affirming on the merits, the FTC petitioned that court to enter a show cause order against the company for contempt of the pendente lite order and, later, rules were issued against petitioner, who had long since severed his connections as a company official, and others to show cause why they should not be held in criminal contempt for having aided and abetted the company to violate the pendente lite order. Petitioner’s demand for a jury trial was denied. Following a hearing, he was found guilty of committing acts of contempt violating the pendente lite order during the period from its entry to the entry of final judgment, and was given a six months’ sentence. This Court granted the petition for certiorari limited to review of the question whether, after denial of a demand for a jury, a six months’ imprisonment sentence is permissible under Article III and the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution.

Held: The judgment is affirmed. Pp. 375-384.

341 F. 2d 548, affirmed.


1. The Court of Appeals had the power to punish for criminal contempt the disobedience of its interlocutory order. Pp. 377-378.

(a) Petitioner’s contention that contempt proceedings stemming from administrative law enforcement proceedings are civil, rather than criminal, is irrelevant, since a jury trial is not required in civil contempt proceedings. Shillitani v. United States, ante, p. 364. P. 377.

(b) The purpose of the proceedings against petitioner could in no event have been remedial, i.e., civil in nature, in view of his severance long before the contempt proceedings of all connections with the company, which, moreover, no longer engaged in the business functions which the alleged contempt violations involved. P. 377.

(c) The basis of the contempt charged against petitioner was disobedience of the order of the court, not that of the FTC. P. 378.

2. Even assuming, contrary to United States v. Barnett, 376 U.S. 681, that criminal contempt proceedings are criminal actions falling within the requirements of Article III and the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, the right to a jury trial does not extend to petty offenses, such as the offense involved here. Pp. 378-380.

(a) According to 18 U.S.C. § 1 (1964 ed.), any misdemeanor the penalty for which does not exceed six months’ imprisonment is a "petty offense." P. 379.

(b) Since petitioner received a six months’ sentence and the nature of criminal contempt does not necessarily require its being excluded from the category of petty offenses, petitioner’s offense can be treated as "petty." P. 380.

(c) In the exercise of the Court’s supervisory power and under the peculiar power of federal courts to revise sentences in contempt cases, it is ruled that criminal contempt sentences exceeding six months may not be imposed absent a jury trial or waiver thereof, though a reviewing court may revise sentences in contempt cases tried with or without juries. P. 380.

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, joined by MR. JUSTICE STEWART, concluded that:

1. The prosecution of criminal contempts is not subject to the grand and petit jury requirements of Article III, § 2, of the Constitution and the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. Green v. United States, 356 U.S. 165. Pp. 381-382.

2. The prevailing opinion’s new supervisory power rule may generate difficulty for federal courts seeking to implement locally unpopular decrees and create an administrative problem for the trial judge, who in deciding whether to proffer a jury trial must anticipate the sentence, which in turn depends on the evidence revealed in the trial. P. 382.


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Chicago: U.S. Supreme Court, "Syllabus," Cheff v. Schnackenberg, 384 U.S. 373 (1966) in 384 U.S. 373 384 U.S. 374–384 U.S. 375. Original Sources, accessed April 17, 2024,

MLA: U.S. Supreme Court. "Syllabus." Cheff v. Schnackenberg, 384 U.S. 373 (1966), in 384 U.S. 373, pp. 384 U.S. 374–384 U.S. 375. Original Sources. 17 Apr. 2024.

Harvard: U.S. Supreme Court, 'Syllabus' in Cheff v. Schnackenberg, 384 U.S. 373 (1966). cited in 1966, 384 U.S. 373, pp.384 U.S. 374–384 U.S. 375. Original Sources, retrieved 17 April 2024, from