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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Dionisio - 410 U.S. 1, 93 S. Ct. 764 (1973)


The Fifth Amendment guarantees that no civilian may be brought to trial for an infamous crime unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury. This constitutional guarantee presupposes an investigative body acting independently of either prosecuting attorney or judge, whose mission is to clear the innocent, no less than to bring to trial those who may be guilty. Any holding that would saddle a grand jury with minitrials and preliminary showings would assuredly impede its investigation and frustrate the public's interest in the fair and expeditious administration of the criminal laws. The grand jury must be free to pursue its investigations unhindered by external influence or supervision so long as it does not trench upon the legitimate rights of any witness called before it.


A grand jury subpoenaed about 20 persons, including respondent Dionisio, to give voice exemplars for identification purposes. Dionisio, on Fourth and Fifth Amendment grounds, refused to comply. The District Court rejected both claims and adjudged Dionisio in contempt. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh District reversed, holding that while compelling the voice exemplar would not violate the Fifth Amendment's privilege against self-incrimination, nevertheless the Fourth Amendment was applicable and required a preliminary showing of reasonableness before the witness could be compelled to furnish the exemplar and that the proposed "seizures" would be unreasonable because of the large number of witnesses subpoenaed to produce the exemplars. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari review.


Was the subpoena to appear before a grand jury and directive to give a voice exemplar posed an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of Dionisio’s rights?




The United States Supreme Court reversed and remanding, holding that Dionisio's compulsory appearance before the grand jury was not an unreasonable seizure. Moreover, the grand jury's directive to make a voice recording did not infringe his rights under U.S. Const. amend. IV. The Court stated that the obtaining of physical evidence from a person involved a potential violation of U.S. Const. amend. IV at two different levels: first, the seizure of the person necessary to bring him into contact with government agents; second, the subsequent search for and seizure of the evidence. The Court found no constitutional violation with respect to the seizure of Dionisio, and distinguished the use of a grand jury subpoena from the unconstitutional dragnet methods of seizing suspects. Nor did the Court find any constitutional violation in taking a voice exemplar. The disclosure of a voice was immeasurably further removed from the Fourth Amendment protection than were other permissible bodily intrusions, such as the extraction of blood and fingerprints.

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