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United States v. Aguilar - 515 U.S. 593, 115 S. Ct. 2357 (1995)

Rule:

False testimony to an investigating agent falls on the other side of the statutory line from that of one who delivers false documents or testimony to the grand jury itself. Conduct of the latter sort all but assures that the grand jury will consider the material in its deliberations. But what use will be made of false testimony given to an investigating agent who has not been subpoenaed or otherwise directed to appear before the grand jury is far more speculative. It cannot be said to have the "natural and probable effect" of interfering with the due administration of justice.

Facts:

A United States District Court judge, Robert P. Aguilar, was approached by an acquaintance, a distant relation by marriage, for assistance in the matter of a third party's motion to have a conviction set aside. As a result, Aguilar spoke about the matter with the judge to whom the motion had been assigned, and learned that the acquaintance had been named on a wiretap authorization as a potential interceptee. Some months later, Aguilar notified his nephew of the existence of the wiretap, with the intent that the information be relayed to the acquaintance. The authorization had, in fact, expired at the time of this disclosure. Two months later, a grand jury began to investigate an alleged conspiracy to influence the outcome of the third party's case, and when two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents questioned the Aguilar, he lied to the FBI agents about both his participation in the case and his knowledge of the wiretap. Aguilar was convicted of illegally disclosing a wiretap in violation of 18 U.S.C.S. § 2232(c) and endeavoring to obstruct the due administration of justice in violation of 18 U.S.C.S. § 1503. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed both convictions, holding that § 2232(c) required the disclosure of a pending wiretap authorization or an authorization that had not expired because the purpose of § 2232(c) was to thwart interference with the possible interception of the wiretap of which an accused has knowledge. I this case, the interception was impossible because the authorization for it had expired when Aguilar disclosed its existence. It also held that Aguilar had not interfered with a pending judicial proceeding under § 1503, because the grand jury investigating the conspiracy had not authorized or directed the FBI investigation, and merely uttering false statements did not "corruptly influence" within the meaning of § 1503.

Issue:

  1. Did the defendant judge interfere with a pending judicial proceeding in violation of 18 U.S.C.S. § 1503?
  2. Was the defendant properly convicted of illegally disclosing a wiretap?

Answer:

1) No. 2) Yes.

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court held that uttering false statements to an investigating agent who might or might not testify before a grand jury was not sufficient to make out a violation of the clause of 18 U.S.C.S. § 1503 providing for punishment of one who "corruptly endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice," where it had not been shown that the FBI agent acted as an arm of the grand jury, that the grand jury had summoned the testimony of the FBI agent, or that the judge knew that his false statements would be provided to the grand jury. However, Aguilar was properly convicted of illegally disclosing a wiretap because the language of § 2232(c) did not require that the wiretap application or authorization must be pending or in existence at the time of the disclosure, and there was no necessity, because of any concern that a broader construction would run counter to the Federal Constitution's First Amendment, to read the statute narrowly so as to exclude disclosures of expired wiretaps.

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