The Supreme Court yesterday placed new limits on the protection from prosecution afforded by a government grant of immunity from prosecution.
In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that a person's testimony given under immunity may be used against him to prove he lied to a grand jury.
The case involved Stanley Apfelbaum, a former administrative assistant to the district attorney of Philadelphia, who was convicted of perjury before a federal grand jury investigating the operation of a Chestnut Hill, Pa., automobile dealership.
Apfelbaum testified under a grant of immunity in the dealership probe. But prosecutors determined that his testimony was false and charged him with perjury.
To prove it, they introduced examples of Apfelbaum's testimony that were truthful. On appeal, Apfelbaum contended that the original grant of immunity prevented the introduction of those truthful examples at his perjury trial.
Justice William Rehnquist wrote that the Fifth Amendment (which protects a defendant against self-incrimination) does not preclude all uses of immunized testimony.
In another decision, the court ruled illegal California's system of controlling wine prices, saying it constituted price fixing under federal law.
The California system placed a floor on wine prices and allowed that floor to be set by wine wholesalers in the state.
State price-control mechanisms are exempt from federal antitrust laws as long as the state controls them, the court said. In California, however, the wholesalers effectively set the prices.
The decision could affect cigarette price control mechanisms in Maryland and Virginia. Officials in those jurisdictions said they would have to examine the decision in the California case before being certain.
Justice Lewis Powell delivered the opinion for all the justices except William Brennan, who did not participate.