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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Miller - 425 U.S. 435, 96 S. Ct. 1619 (1976)


A depositor takes the risk, in revealing his affairs to another, that the information will be conveyed by that person to the government. The Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the obtaining of information revealed to a third party and conveyed by him to government authorities, even if the information is revealed on the assumption that it will be used only for a limited purpose and the confidence placed in the third party will not be betrayed. 


Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents gave grand jury subpoenas duces tecum issued in blank from the district court to the presidents of banks where the defendant kept his accounts. The banks made the documents available to the agents, which were then used in their investigation of defendant, charging him with various federal offences and used against him at his trial. He filed a motion to suppress microfilms of checks, deposit slips, and other records relating to his accounts from the banks pursuant to the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970. He contended that the subpoenas duces tecum pursuant to which the material had been produced by the banks were defective and that the records had thus been illegally seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Following denial of his motion, defendant was convicted of possessing an unregistered still, operating a distillery without bond or paying whiskey taxes, possessing untaxed whiskey, and conspiring to defraud the United States of taxes. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed, having concluded that the subpoenaed documents fell within a constitutionally protected zone of privacy. The government sought further review in the United States Supreme Court.


Were the subpoenaed documents constitutionally protected under the Fourth Amendment?




The Court held that the defendant possessed no Fourth Amendment interest in the bank records that could be vindicated by a challenge to the subpoenas, and the District Court did not err in denying the motion to suppress. It further held that the defendant had no legitimate expectations of privacy in his bank records because the bank was a third party to which he disclosed his affairs when he opened his accounts at the bank. Since U.S. Const. amend. IV did not protect information revealed to a third party, and since records kept under the Bank Secrecy Act did not add additional protection, the records were properly admitted into evidence.

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