U.S. Supreme Court
Scull v. Virginia, 359 U.S. 344 (1959)
Scull v. Virginia
Argued November 18, 1958
Decided May 4, 1959
359 U.S. 344
Petitioner was convicted in a State Court of contempt, and sentenced to fine and imprisonment for refusing to obey an order of that Court to answer certain questions put to him by an Investigating Committee of the State Legislature. The events leading to his subpoena, as well as the questions asked him, made it clear that the Committee's investigation touched the area of free speech, press, and association, and the record showed that the purposes of the inquiry, as announced by the Chairman of the Committee, were so unclear and conflicting that petitioner did not have a fair opportunity of understanding the basis of the questions or any justification on the Committee's part for seeking the information he refused to give.
Held: his conviction violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, since he was not given a fair opportunity, at the peril of contempt, to determine whether he was within his rights in refusing to answer. He cannot be sent to jail for a crime he could not with reasonable certainty know he was committing. Pp. 359 U. S. 344-353.