Constitutional Law – Due Process – Right of Witness to Counsel Before State Investigatory Officer

After a fire occurred on the premises of appellants’ corporation, the state fire marshal started an investigation into the causes of the fire, and subpoenaed appellants to appear as witnesses. Ohio law provides that such investigations may be conducted in private and gives the fire marshal power to punish summarily witnesses who refuse to testify. Appellants refused to testify without the presence of their counsel, who had accompanied them to the place of questioning. Appellants were thereafter committed to the county jail by the deputy fire marshal who conducted the investigation. On appeal from denial of a writ of habeas corpus by the Ohio Supreme Court, appellants asserted that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment gave them a right to have the assistance of their own counsel in giving testimony. The appellants disavowed making any direct attack on the fire marshal’s power to punish summarily. Held, in a five to four decision, the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not require that appellants be allowed assistance of counsel in giving testimony as witnesses at a proceeding conducted by the state to investigate the causes of a fire. In re Groban, 352 U.S. 330 (1957).