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Law School Case Brief

UNITED STATES v. R. Enters., INC. - 498 U.S. 292, 111 S. Ct. 722 (1991)


The grand jury can investigate merely on suspicion that the law is being violated, or even just because it wants assurance that it is not. The function of the grand jury is to inquire into all information that might possibly bear on its investigation until it has identified an offense or has satisfied itself that none has occurred. As a necessary consequence of its investigatory function, the grand jury paints with a broad brush. A grand jury investigation is not fully carried out until every available clue has been run down and all witnesses examined in every proper way to find if a crime has been committed.


Pursuant to an investigation into allegations of interstate transportation of obscene materials, a federal grand jury sitting in the Eastern District of Virginia issued subpoenas duces tecum to Model Magazine Distributors, Inc. (Model), and to respondents R. Enterprises, Inc., and MFR Court Street Books, Inc. (MFR), all of which were based in New York and wholly owned by the same person. The subpoenas sought a variety of corporate books and records and, in Model's case, copies of certain videotapes that it had shipped to retailers in the Eastern District. The District Court denied the companies' motions to quash the subpoenas and, when the companies refused to comply with the subpoenas, found each of them in contempt. The Court of Appeals, inter alia, quashed the subpoenas issued to respondents, ruling that the subpoenas did not satisfy the relevancy prong of the test set out in United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683, 699-700, 41 L. Ed. 2d 1039, 94 S. Ct. 3090 -- which requires the Government to establish relevancy, admissibility, and specificity in order to enforce a subpoena in the trial context -- and that the subpoenas therefore failed to meet the requirement that any document subpoenaed under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 17(c) be admissible as evidence at trial.


Did the District Court err in denying the companies' motions to quash the subpoenas duces tecum issued by a federal grand jury?




The Court held that the District Court had correctly denied the motions to quash because (1) a motion to quash, on relevancy grounds, a subpoena duces tecum issued under Rule 17(c)which provides that a court may quash such a subpoena if compliance would be unreasonable or oppressive, in connection with a federal grand jury investigation must be denied by a Federal District Court unless the District Court determines that there is no reasonable possibility that the category of materials the government seeks will produce information relevant to the general subject of the grand jury's investigation; (2) the two corporations had not challenged the subpoenas as being too indefinite nor claimed that compliance with the subpoenas would be overly burdensome; and (3) the District Court could have concluded from the facts that the two corporations, as well as another corporation, which had shipped sexually explicit materials into the Eastern District of Virginia, were wholly owned by the same person, and that all three corporations did business in the same area that there was a reasonable possibility that the two corporations' business records sought under the subpoenas would produce information relevant to the grand jury investigation.

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