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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Hubbell - 530 U.S. 27, 120 S. Ct. 2037 (2000)

Rule:

The act of producing documents in response to a subpoena may have a compelled testimonial aspect. The act of production itself may implicitly communicate statements of fact. By producing documents in compliance with a subpoena, the witness would admit that the papers existed, were in his possession or control, and were authentic. Moreover, when the custodian of documents responds to a subpoena, he may be compelled to take the witness stand and answer questions designed to determine whether he has produced everything demanded by the subpoena. The answers to those questions, as well as the act of production itself, may certainly communicate information about the existence, custody, and authenticity of the documents. Whether the constitutional privilege protects the answers to such questions, or protects the act of production itself, is a question that is distinct from the question whether the unprotected contents of the documents themselves are incriminating.

Facts:

Petitioner United States prosecuted respondent for various crimes after he produced documents in response to a court order. The order directed respondent to respond to a subpoena and granted him immunity to the extent allowed by law. The lower court had remanded for a hearing to establish petitioner's knowledge of respondent's financial affairs.

Issue:

Does the petitioner violate the right of respondent against self-incrimination when he is compelled to produce documents without first receiving a grant of immunity?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court held that respondent could not be compelled to produce the documents requested by petitioner without first receiving a grant of immunity because it was co-extensive with the constitutional privilege against self-incrimination. The constitutional self-incrimination privilege applied to testimonial aspects of a response to a subpoena and petitioner had not shown any prior knowledge of documents respondent produced under subpoena.

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