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Fifth Amendment Protection Against Self-Incrimination

Anyone who has seen a police procedural on TV has likely heard someone say “I plead the Fifth.” In most cases, they’re referring to the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination. As a general rule, someone who testifies in court must answer all questions truthfully. However, the Fifth Amendment gives criminal defendants the option to say nothing, if the answer could subject them to criminal penalties.

What the Fifth Amendment Says

“…nor shall [a person] be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself…”

Frequently Asked Questions

What It Means

United States Library of Congress, The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation

The source of the Self-Incrimination Clause was the phrase “nemo tenetur seipsum accusare,” that no man is bound to accuse himself. The maxim is but one aspect of two different systems of law enforcement that competed for acceptance in England; the accusatorial and the inquisitorial.

In the accusatorial system, which predated the reign of Henry II but was expanded and extended by him, first the community and then the state by grand and petit juries proceeded against alleged wrongdoers through the examination of others, and in the early years through examination of the defendant as well.

The inquisitorial system, which developed in the ecclesiastical courts, compelled the alleged wrongdoer to affirm his culpability through the use of the oath ex officio. Under the oath, an official had the power to make a person before him take an oath to tell the truth to the full extent of his knowledge as to all matters about which he would be questioned; before administration of the oath the person was not advised of the nature of the charges against him, or whether he was accused of a crime, and was also not informed of the nature of the questions to be asked.1

The use of this oath in Star Chamber proceedings, especially to root out political heresies, combined with opposition to the ecclesiastical oath ex officio, led over a long period of time to general acceptance of the principle that a person could not be required to accuse himself under oath in any proceeding before an official tribunal seeking information looking to a criminal prosecution, or before a magistrate investigating an accusation against him with or without oath, or under oath in a court of equity or a court of common law.2 The precedents in the colonies are few in number, but following the Revolution six states had embodied the privilege against self-incrimination in their constitutions,3 and the privilege was one of those recommended by several state ratifying conventions for inclusion in a federal bill of rights.4 Madison’s version of the clause read nor shall be compelled to be a witness against himself, but a House amendment inserted in any criminal case into the provision.5

The Self-Incrimination Clause in Practice

The Supreme Court has settled upon the principle that the self-incrimination clause serves two interrelated interests: the preservation of an accusatorial system of criminal justice, which goes to the integrity of the judicial system, and the preservation of personal privacy from unwarranted governmental intrusion.6 To protect these interests and to preserve these values, the privilege is not to be interpreted literally. Rather, the sole concern is, as its name indicates, with the danger to a witness forced to give testimony leading to the infliction of penalties affixed to the criminal acts.7 Furthermore, the privilege afforded not only extends to answers that would in themselves support a conviction but likewise embraces those which would furnish a link in the chain of evidence needed to prosecute.8

The privilege against self-incrimination parries the general obligation to provide testimony under oath when called upon, but it also applies in police interrogations. In all cases, the privilege must be supported by a reasonable fear that a response will be incriminatory. The issue is a matter of law for a court to determine,9 and therefore, with limited exceptions, one must claim the privilege to benefit from it.10 Otherwise, silence in the face of questioning may be insufficient to invoke the privilege because it may not afford an adequate opportunity either to test whether information withheld falls within the privilege or to cure a violation through a grant of immunity.11 A witness who fails to claim the privilege explicitly when an affirmative claim is required is deemed to have waived it, and a waiver may be found where the witness has answered some preliminary questions but desires to stop at a certain point.12 However, an assertion of innocence in conjunction with a claim of the privilege does not obviate the right of witnesses to invoke it, as their responses still may provide the government with evidence it may later seek to use against them.13

Although individuals must have reasonable cause to apprehend danger and cannot be the judge of the validity of their claims, a court that would deny a claim of the privilege must be perfectly clear, from a careful consideration of all the circumstances in the case, that the individual is mistaken, and that the answers cannot possibly have such tendency to incriminate.14 To reach a determination, furthermore, a trial judge may not require a witness to disclose so much of the danger as to render the privilege nugatory. As the Court observed:

“[I]f the witness, upon interposing his claim, were required to prove the hazard he would be compelled to surrender the very protection which the privilege is designed to guarantee. To sustain the privilege, it need only be evident from the implications of the question, in the setting in which it is asked, that a responsive answer to the question or an explanation of why it cannot be answered might be dangerous because injurious disclosure could result.”15

Who Can Plead the Fifth?

The privilege against self-incrimination is a personal one and cannot be used by or on behalf of any organization, such as a corporation. Thus, a corporation cannot object on self-incrimination grounds to a subpoena of its records and books or to the compelled testimony of those corporate agents who have been given personal immunity from criminal prosecution.16 Nor may a corporate official with custody of corporate documents that incriminate him personally resist their compelled production on the assertion of his personal privilege.17

A witness has traditionally been able to claim the privilege in any proceeding whatsoever in which testimony is legally required when his answer might be used against him in that proceeding or in a future criminal proceeding or when it might be exploited to uncover other evidence against him.18 Incrimination is not complete once guilt has been adjudicated, and hence the privilege may be asserted during the sentencing phase of trial.19 Conversely, there is no valid claim on the ground that the information sought can be used in proceedings which are not criminal in nature,20 and there can be no valid claim if there is no criminal prosecution21 The Court in recent years has also applied the privilege to situations, such as police interrogation of suspects, in which there is no legal compulsion to speak.22

What the privilege protects against is the compulsion of testimonial disclosures. Thus, the clause is not offended by such non-testimonial compulsions as requiring a person in custody to stand or walk in a police lineup, to speak prescribed words, to model particular clothing, or to give samples of handwriting, fingerprints, or blood.23 A person may be compelled to produce specific documents even though they contain incriminating information.24 If, however, the existence of specific documents is not known to the government, and the act of production informs the government about the existence, custody, or authenticity of the documents, then the privilege is implicated.25 Application of these principles resulted in a holding that the Independent Counsel could not base a prosecution on incriminating evidence identified and produced as the result of compliance with a broad subpoena for all information relating to the individual’s income, employment, and professional relationships.26

The protection is against compulsory incrimination, and traditionally the Court has treated within the clause only those compulsions which arise from legally enforceable obligations, culminating in imprisonment for refusal to testify or to produce documents.27 The compulsion need not be imprisonment, but can also be termination of public employment28 or disbarment of a lawyer29 as a legal consequence of a refusal to make incriminating admissions. The degree of coercion may also prove decisive, the Court having ruled that moving a prisoner from a medium-security unit to a maximum security unit was insufficient to compel him to incriminate himself in spite of the attendant loss of privileges and the harsher living conditions.30 However, although it appears that prisoners31 and probationers32 have less protection than others do, the Court has not developed a clear doctrinal explanation to identify the differences between permissible and impermissible coercion.33

It has long been the rule that a defendant who takes the stand on his own behalf does so voluntarily, and cannot then claim the privilege to defeat cross-examination on matters reasonably related to the subject matter of his direct examination,34 and that such a defendant may be impeached by proof of prior convictions.35 But, in Griffin v. California,36 the Court refused to permit prosecutorial or judicial comment to the jury upon a defendant’s refusal to take the stand on his own behalf, because such comment was a penalty imposed by courts for exercising a constitutional privilege and [i]t cuts down on the privilege by making its assertion costly.37 Prosecutors’ comments violating the Griffin rule can nonetheless constitute harmless error.38 Nor may a prosecutor impeach a defendant’s trial testimony through use of the fact that upon his arrest and receipt of a Miranda warning he remained silent and did not give the police the exculpatory story he told at trial.39 But where the defendant took the stand and testified, the Court permitted the impeachment use of his pre-arrest silence when that silence had in no way been officially encouraged, through a Miranda warning or otherwise.40

Further, the Court held inadmissible at the subsequent trial a defendant’s testimony at a hearing to suppress evidence wrongfully seized, because use of the testimony would put the defendant to an impermissible choice between asserting his right to remain silent and invoking his right to be free of illegal searches and seizures.41 The Court also proscribed the introduction at a second trial of the defendant’s testimony at his first trial, given to rebut a confession which was subsequently held inadmissible, since the testimony was in effect fruit of the poisonous tree, and had been coerced from the defendant through use of the confession.42 Potentially most far-reaching was a holding that invalidated the penalty structure of a statute under which defendants could escape a possible death sentence by entering a guilty plea; the statute needlessly encourage[d] waivers of defendant’s Fifth Amendment right to plead not guilty and his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.43

Although this needless encouragement test assessed the nature of the choice required to be made by defendants against the strength of the governmental interest in the system requiring the choice, the Court soon developed another test stressing the voluntariness of the choice. A guilty plea entered by a defendant who correctly understands the consequences of the plea is voluntary unless coerced or obtained under false pretenses; moreover, there is no impermissible coercion where the defendant has the effective assistance of counsel.44

The Court in an opinion by Justice Harlan then formulated still another test in holding that a defendant in a capital case in which the jury in one process decides both guilt and sentence could be put to a choice between remaining silent on guilt or admitting guilt and being able to put on evidence designed to mitigate the possible sentence. The pressure to take the stand in response to the sentencing issue, said the Court, was not so great as to impair the policies underlying the Self-Incrimination Clause, policies described in this instance as the proscription of coercion and of cruelty in putting the defendant to an undeniably hard choice.45 Similarly, the Court held that requiring a defendant to give notice to the prosecution before trial of his intention to rely on an alibi defense and to give the names and addresses of witnesses who will support it does not violate the clause.46 Nor does it violate a defendant’s self-incrimination privilege to create a presumption upon the establishment of certain basic facts from which the jury may infer the defendant’s guilt unless he rebuts the presumption.47

The obligation to testify is not relieved by this clause, if, regardless of whether incriminating answers are given, a prosecution is precluded,48 or if the result of the answers is not incrimination, but rather harm to reputation or exposure to infamy or disgrace.49 The clause does not prevent a public employer from discharging an employee who, in an investigation specifically and narrowly directed at the performance of the employee’s official duties, refuses to cooperate and to provide the employer with the desired information on grounds of self-incrimination.50 But it is unclear under what other circumstances a public employer may discharge an employee who has claimed his privilege before another investigating agency.51

Finally, the rules established by the clause and the judicial interpretations apply against the states to the same degree that they apply against the Federal Government,52 and neither sovereign can compel discriminatory admissions that would incriminate the person in the other jurisdiction.53 There is no cooperative internationalism that parallels the cooperative federalism and cooperative prosecution on which application against states is premised, and consequently concern with foreign prosecution is beyond the scope of the Self-Incrimination Clause.54

Required Records Doctrine

Although the privilege is applicable to an individual’s papers and effects,55 it does not extend to corporate persons; hence corporate records, as has been noted, are subject to compelled production.56 In fact, however, the Court has greatly narrowed the protection afforded in this area to natural persons by developing the required records doctrine. That is, it has held that the privilege which exists as to private papers cannot be maintained in relation to ‘records required by law to be kept in order that there may be suitable information of transactions which are the appropriate subjects of governmental regulation and the enforcement of restrictions validly established.’57 This exception developed out of, as Justice Frankfurter showed in dissent, the rule that documents which are part of the official records of government are wholly outside the scope of the privilege; public records are the property of government and are always accessible to inspection. Because government requires certain records to be kept to facilitate the regulation of the business being conducted, so the reasoning goes, the records become public at least to the degree that government could always scrutinize them without hindrance from the record-keeper. If records merely because required to be kept by law ipso facto become public records, we are indeed living in glass houses. Virtually every major public law enactment—to say nothing of State and local legislation —has record-keeping provisions. In addition to record-keeping requirements, is the network of provisions for filing reports. Exhaustive efforts would be needed to track down all the statutory authority, let alone the administrative regulations, for record-keeping and reporting requirements. Unquestionably they are enormous in volume.58

It may be assumed at the outset that there are limits which the government cannot constitutionally exceed in requiring the keeping of records which may be inspected by an administrative agency and may be used in prosecuting statutory violations committed by the record-keeper himself.59 But the only limit that the Court suggested in Shapiro was that there must be a sufficient relation between the activity sought to be regulated and the public concern so that the Government can constitutionally regulate or forbid the basic activity concerned, and can constitutionally require the keeping of particular records, subject to inspection by the Administrator.60 That there are limits established by the Self-Incrimination Clause itself rather than by a subject matter jurisdiction test is evident in the Court’s consideration of reporting and disclosure requirements implicating but not directly involving the required-records doctrine.

Immunity Under the Fifth Amendment

Immunity statutes, which have historical roots deep in Anglo-American jurisprudence, are not incompatible with the values of the Self-Incrimination Clause. Rather they seek a rational accommodation between the imperatives of the privilege and the legitimate demands of government to compel citizens to testify. The existence of these statutes reflects the importance of testimony, and the fact that many offenses are of such a character that the only persons capable of giving useful testimony are those implicated in the crime.61 Apparently the first immunity statute was enacted by Parliament in 171062 and it was widely copied in the colonies. The first federal immunity statute was enacted in 1857, and immunized any person who testified before a congressional committee from prosecution for any matter touching which he had testified.63

Revised in 1862 so as merely to prevent the use of the congressional testimony at a subsequent prosecution of any congressional witness,64 the statute was soon rendered unenforceable by the ruling in Counselman v. Hitchcock65 that an analogous limited immunity statute was unconstitutional because it did not confer an immunity coextensive with the privilege it replaced. Counselman was ambiguous with regard to its grounds because it identified two faults in the statute: it did not proscribe derivative evidence66 and it prohibited only future use of the compelled testimony.67 The latter language accentuated a division between adherents of transactional immunity and of use immunity which has continued to the present.68 In any event, following Counselman, Congress enacted a statute that conferred transactional immunity as the price for being able to compel testimony,69 and the Court sustained this law in a five-to-four decision.70

The 1893 statute has become part of our constitutional fabric and has been included ‘in substantially the same terms, in virtually all of the major regulatory enactments of the Federal Government.’71 So spoke Justice Frankfurter in 1956, broadly reaffirming Brown v. Walker and upholding the constitutionality of a federal immunity statute.72 Because all but one of the immunity acts passed after Brown v. Walker were transactional immunity statutes,73 the question of the constitutional sufficiency of use immunity did not arise, although dicta in cases dealing with immunity continued to assert the necessity of the former type of grant.74 But, beginning in 1964, when it applied the Self-Incrimination Clause to the states, the Court was faced with the problem that arose because a state could grant immunity only in its own courts and not in the courts of another state or of the United States.75 On the other hand, to foreclose the states from compelling testimony because they could not immunize a witness in a subsequent foreign prosecution would severely limit state law enforcement efforts. Therefore, the Court emphasized the use restriction rationale of Counselman and announced that as a constitutional rule, a state witness could not be compelled to incriminate himself under federal law unless federal authorities were precluded from using either his testimony or evidence derived from it, and thus formulated a use restriction to that effect.76 Then, while refusing to adopt the course because of statutory interpretation reasons, the Court indicated that use restriction in a federal regulatory scheme requiring the reporting of incriminating information was in principle an attractive and apparently practical resolution of the difficult problem before us, citing Murphy with apparent approval.77

Congress thereupon enacted a statute replacing all prior immunity statutes and adopting a use-immunity restriction only.78 Soon tested, this statute was sustained in Kastigar v. United States.79 [P]rotection coextensive with the privilege is the degree of protection which the Constitution requires, wrote Justice Powell for the Court, and is all that the Constitution requires.80 Transactional immunity, which accords full immunity from prosecution for the offense to which the compelled testimony relates, affords the witness considerably broader protection than does the Fifth Amendment privilege. The privilege has never been construed to mean that one who invokes it cannot subsequently be prosecuted. Its sole concern is to afford protection against being ‘forced to give testimony leading to the infliction of penalties affixed to . . . criminal acts.’ Immunity from the use of compelled testimony and evidence derived directly and indirectly therefrom affords this protection. It prohibits the prosecutorial authorities from using the compelled testimony in any respect, and it therefore insures that the testimony cannot lead to the infliction of criminal penalties on the witness.81

More on the Fifth Amendment

Miranda v. Arizona Case Summary: You Have the Right to Remain Silent

Double Jeopardy Under the Fifth Amendment

Fifth Amendment Due Process Rights


1.    Maguire, Attack of the Common Lawyers on the Oath Ex Officio as Administered in the Ecclesiastical Courts in England, in Essays in History and Political Theory in Honor of Charles Howard McIlwain 199 (C. Wittke ed., 1936).

2.    The traditional historical account is 8 J. Wigmore, A Treatise on the Anglo-American System of Evidence § 2250 (J. McNaughton rev. 1961), but more recent historical studies have indicated that Dean Wigmore was too grudging of the privilege. Leonard Levy, Origins of the Fifth Amendment: The Right Against Self-Incrimination (1968); Morgan, The Privilege Against Self-Incrimination, 34 Minn. L. Rev. 1 (1949).

3.    3 F. Thorpe, The Federal and State Constitutions, reprinted in H. Doc. No. 357, 59th Congress, 2d Sess. 1891 (1909) (Massachusetts); 4 id. at 2455 (New Hampshire); 5 id. at 2787 (North Carolina), 3038 (Pennsylvania); 6 id. at 3741 (Vermont); 7 id. at 3813 (Virginia).

4.    Amendments were recommended by an Address of a minority of the Pennsylvania convention after they had been voted down as a part of the ratification action, 2 Bernard Schwartz, The Bill of Rights: A Documentary History 628, 658, 664 (1971), and then the ratifying conventions of Massachusetts, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, and New York formally took this step.

5.    Id. at 753 (August 17, 1789).

6.    In Tehan v. United States ex rel. Shott, the Court noted:

[T]he basic purposes that lie behind the privilege against self-incrimination do not relate to protecting the innocent from conviction, but rather to preserving the integrity of a judicial system in which even the guilty are not to be convicted unless the prosecution shoulder[s] the entire load.

. . .

The basic purpose of a trial is the determination of truth, and it is self-evident that to deny a lawyer's help through the technical intricacies of a criminal trial or to deny a full opportunity to appeal a conviction because the accused is poor is to impede that purpose and to infect a criminal proceeding with the clear danger of convicting the innocent. . . By contrast, the Fifth Amendment's privilege against self-incrimination is not an adjunct to the ascertainment of truth. That privilege, like the guarantees of the Fourth Amendment, stands as a protection of quite different constitutional values—values reflecting the concern of our society for the right of each individual to be let alone. Tehan v. United States ex rel. Shott, 382 U.S. 406, 415, 416 (1966)see also California v. Byers, 402 U.S. 424, 448–58 (1971) (Harlan, J., concurring); Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 760–65 (1966)Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 460 (1966). For a critical view of the privilege, see Henry Friendly, The Fifth Amendment Tomorrow: The Case for Constitutional Change, 37 U. Cin. L. Rev. 671 (1968) .

7.    Ullmann, 350 U.S. at 438–39.

8.    Hoffman v. United States, 341 U.S. 479, 486 (1951)see also Emspak v. United States, 349 U.S. 190 (1955)Blau v. United States, 340 U.S. 332 (1951)Blau v. United States, 340 U.S. 159 (1950).

9.    E.g.Mason v. United States, 244 U.S. 362 (1917).

10. The primary exceptions are for a criminal defendant not taking the stand and a suspect being subject to inherently coercive circumstances (e.g., custodial interrogation). See Salinas v. Texas, 570 U.S. 178, 183–86 (2013) (plurality opinion).

11. In Salinas v. Texas, 570 U.S. 178 (2013), the defendant—Salinas—answered all questions during noncustodial questioning about a double murder, other than one about whether his shotgun would match shells recovered at the murder scene. He fell silent on this inquiry but did not assert the privilege against self-incrimination. At closing argument at Salinas's murder trial, the prosecutor argued that this silence indicated guilt, and a majority of the Court found the comments constitutionally permissible. The Court affirmed the Texas Supreme Court's ruling that Salinas had failed to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights because he did not do so explicitly. Although no opinion drew a majority of Justices, in an opinion joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy, Justice Alito observed that a defendant could choose to remain silent for numerous reasons other than avoiding self-incrimination. Id. at 188–89 (plurality opinion).

12. Rogers v. United States, 340 U.S. 367 (1951)United States v. Monia, 317 U.S. 424 (1943). The waiver concept here has been pronounced analytically [un]sound, with the Court preferring to reserve the term waiver for the process by which one affirmatively renounces the protection of the privilege. Garner v. United States, 424 U.S. 648, 654 n.9 (1976). Thus, the Court has settled upon the concept of compulsion as applied to cases where disclosures are required in the face of claim of privilege. Id. [I]n the ordinary case, if a witness under compulsion to testify makes disclosures instead of claiming the privilege, the government has not 'compelled' him to incriminate himself. Id. at 654. Similarly, the Court has enunciated the concept of voluntariness to be applied in situations where it is claimed that a particular factor denied the individual a free choice to admit, to deny, or to refuse to answer. Id. at 654 n.9, 656-65.

13. Ohio v. Reiner, 532 U.S. 17 (2001).

14. Hoffman v. United States, 341 U.S. 479, 488 (1951) (quoting Temple v. Commonwealth, 75 Va. 892, 898 (1881)). For an application of these principles, see Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 11–14 (1964), and id. at 33 (White, Stewart JJ., dissenting). Where the government is seeking to enforce an essentially noncriminal statutory scheme through compulsory disclosure, some Justices would apparently relax the Hoffman principles. Cf. California v. Byers, 402 U.S. 424 (1971) (plurality opinion).

15. Hoffman, 341 U.S. at 486–87.

16. United States v. White, 322 U.S. 694, 701 (1944)Baltimore & Ohio R.R. v. ICC, 221 U.S. 612 (1911)Hale v. Henkel, 201 U.S. 43, 69–70, 74–75 (1906).

17. United States v. White, 322 U.S. 694, 699–700 (1944)Wilson v. United States, 221 U.S. 361, 384–385 (1911). But the government may make no evidentiary use of the act of production in proceeding individually against the corporate custodian. Braswell v. United States, 487 U.S. 99 (1988)Cf. George Campbell Painting Corp. v. Reid, 392 U.S. 286 (1968)United States v. Rylander, 460 U.S. 752 (1983) (witness who had failed to appeal production order and thus had burden in contempt proceeding to show inability to then produce records could not rely on privilege to shift this evidentiary burden).

18. Thus, not only may a defendant or a witness in a criminal trial, including a juvenile proceeding, In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 42–57 (1967), claim the privilege but so may a party or a witness in a civil court proceeding, McCarthy v. Arndstein, 266 U.S. 34 (1924), a potential defendant or any other witness before a grand jury, Reina v. United States, 364 U.S. 507 (1960)Counselman v. Hitchcock, 142 U.S. 547, 563 (1892), or a witness before a legislative inquiry, Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178, 195–96 (1957)Quinn v. United States, 349 U.S. 155 (1955)Emspak v. United States, 349 U.S. 190 (1955), or before an administrative body. In re Groban, 352 U.S. 330, 333, 336–37, 345–46 (1957)ICC v. Brimson, 154 U.S. 447, 478–80 (1894).

19. Estelle v. Smith, 451 U.S. 454, 462–63 (1981) (We can discern no basis to distinguish between the guilt and penalty phases of respondent’s capital murder trial so far as the protection of the Fifth Amendment privilege is concerned); Mitchell v. United States, 526 U.S. 314 (1999) (non-capital sentencing).

20. Allen v. Illinois, 478 U.S. 364 (1986) (declaration that person is sexually dangerous under Illinois law is not a criminal proceeding); Minnesota v. Murphy, 465 U.S. 420, 435 n.7 (1984) (revocation of probation is not a criminal proceeding, hence there can be no valid claim of the privilege on the ground that the information sought can be used in revocation proceedings). In Murphy, the Court went on to explain that a State may validly insist on answers to even incriminating questions and hence sensibly administer its probation system, as long as it recognizes that the required answers may not be used in a criminal proceeding and thus eliminates the threat of incrimination. Under such circumstances, a probationer’s ‘right to immunity as a result of his compelled testimony would not be at stake,’ and nothing in the Federal Constitution would prevent a State from revoking probation for a refusal to answer. Id. (citations omitted).

21. Chavez v. Martinez, 538 U.S. 760 (2003) (rejecting damages claim brought by suspect interrogated in hospital but not prosecuted).

22. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).

23. Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 764 (1966)United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218, 221–23 (1967)Holt v. United States, 218 U.S. 245, 252 (1910). In California v. Byers, 402 U.S. 424 (1971), four Justices believed that requiring any person involved in a traffic accident to stop and give his name and address did not involve testimonial compulsion and therefore the privilege was inapplicable, id. at 431–34 (Chief Justice Burger and Justices Stewart, White, and Blackmun), but Justice Harlan, id. at 434 (concurring), and Justices Black, Douglas, Brennan, and Marshall, id. at 459, 464 (dissenting), disagreed. In South Dakota v. Neville, 459 U.S. 553 (1983), the Court indicated as well that a state may compel a motorist suspected of drunk driving to submit to a blood alcohol test, and may also give the suspect a choice about whether to submit, but use his refusal to submit to the test as evidence against him. The Court rested its evidentiary ruling on the absence of coercion, preferring not to apply the sometimes difficult distinction between testimonial and physical evidence. In another case, involving roadside videotaping of a drunk driving suspect, the Court found that the slurred nature of the suspect’s speech, as well as his answers to routine booking questions as to name, address, weight, height, eye color, date of birth, and current age, were not testimonial in nature. Pennsylvania v. Muniz, 496 U.S. 582 (1990). On the other hand, the suspect’s answer to a request to identify the date of his sixth birthday was considered testimonial. Id. Two Justices challenged the interpretation limiting application to testimonial disclosures, claiming that the original understanding of the word witness was not limited to someone who gives testimony, but included someone who gives any kind of evidence. United States v. Hubbell, 530 U.S. 27, 49 (2000) (Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Scalia, concurring).

24. Fisher v. United States, 425 U.S. 391 (1976). Compelling a taxpayer by subpoena to produce documents produced by his accountants from his own papers does not involve testimonial self-incrimination and is not barred by the privilege. [T]he Fifth Amendment does not independently proscribe the compelled production of every sort of incriminating evidence but applies only when the accused is compelled to make a testimonial communication that is incriminating. Id. at 408 (emphasis by Court). Even further removed from the protection of the privilege is seizure pursuant to a search warrant of business records in the handwriting of the defendant. Andresen v. Maryland, 427 U.S. 463 (1976). A court order compelling a target of a grand jury investigation to sign a consent directive authorizing foreign banks to disclose records of any and all accounts over which he had a right of withdrawal is not testimonial in nature, since the factual assertions are required of the banks and not of the target. Doe v. United States, 487 U.S. 201 (1988).

25. In United States v. Doe, 465 U.S. 605 (1984), the Court distinguished Fisher, upholding lower courts’ findings that the act of producing tax records implicates the privilege because it would compel admission that the records exist, that they were in the taxpayer’s possession, and that they are authentic. Similarly, a juvenile court’s order to produce a child implicates the privilege, because the act of compliance would amount to testimony regarding [the subject’s] control over and possession of [the child]. Baltimore Dep’t of Social Services v. Bouknight, 493 U.S. 549, 555 (1990).

26. United States v. Hubbell, 530 U.S. 27 (2000).

27. E.g.Marchetti v. United States, 390 U.S. 39 (1968) (criminal penalties attached to failure to register and make incriminating admissions); Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1 (1964) (contempt citation on refusal to testify). See also South Dakota v. Neville, 459 U.S. 553 (1983) (no compulsion in introducing evidence of suspect’s refusal to submit to blood alcohol test, since state could have forced suspect to take test and need not have offered him a choice); Selective Service System v. Minnesota PIRG, 468 U.S. 841 (1984) (no coercion in requirement that applicants for federal financial assistance for higher education reveal whether they have registered for draft).

28. Garrity v. New Jersey, 385 U.S. 493 (1967)Gardner v. Broderick, 392 U.S. 273 (1968)Uniformed Sanitation Men Ass’n v. Commissioner of Sanitation, 392 U.S. 280 (1968)See also Lefkowitz v. Turley, 414 U.S. 70 (1973), holding unconstitutional state statutes requiring the disqualification for five years of contractors doing business with the state if at any time they refused to waive immunity and answer questions respecting their transactions with the state. The state may require employees or contractors to respond to inquiries, but only if it offers them immunity sufficient to supplant the privilege against self-incrimination. See also Lefkowitz v. Cunningham, 431 U.S. 801 (1977).

29. Spevack v. Klein, 385 U.S. 511 (1967).

30. McKune v. Lile, 536 U.S. 24 (2002). The transfer was mandated for refusal to participate in a sexual abuse treatment program that required revelation of sexual history and admission of responsibility. The plurality declared that rehabilitation programs are permissible if the adverse consequences for non-participation are related to the program objectives and do not constitute atypical and significant hardships in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life. 536 U.S. at 38 (opinion of Justice Kennedy). Concurring Justice O’Connor stated her belief that the minor change in living conditions seemed very unlikely to actually compel [the prisoner] to [participate]. Id. at 51.

31. See, in addition to McKune v. LileBaxter v. Palmigiano, 425 U.S. 308 (1976) (adverse inference from inmate’s silence at prison disciplinary hearing); and Ohio Adult Parole Auth. v. Woodard, 523 U.S. 272, 286 (1998) (adverse inference from inmate’s silence at clemency hearing).

32. Minnesota v. Murphy, 465 U.S. 420 (1984) (the possibility of revocation of probation was not so coercive as to compel a probationer to provide incriminating answers to probation officer’s questions).

33. The Court in McKune v. Lile split 5-to-4, with no opinion of the Court.

34. Brown v. Walker, 161 U.S. 591, 597–98 (1896)Fitzpatrick v. United States, 178 U.S. 304, 314–16 (1900)Brown v. United States, 356 U.S. 148 (1958)See also Ohio Adult Parole Auth. v. Woodard, 523 U.S. 272, 286 (1998) (testimony at a clemency interview is voluntary, and cannot be compelled).

35. Spencer v. Texas, 385 U.S. 554, 561 (1967)cf. Michelson v. United States, 335 U.S. 469 (1948).

36. 380 U.S. 609, 614 (1965). The result had been achieved in federal court through statutory enactment. 18 U.S.C. § 3481See Wilson v. United States, 149 U.S. 60 (1893). In Carter v. Kentucky, 450 U.S. 288 (1981), the Court held that the Self-Incrimination Clause required a state, upon defendant’s request, to give a cautionary instruction to the jurors that they must disregard defendant’s failure to testify and not draw any adverse inferences from it. This result, too, had been accomplished in the federal courts through statutory construction. Bruno v. United States, 308 U.S. 287 (1939). In Lakeside v. Oregon, 435 U.S. 333 (1978), the Court held that a court may give such an instruction, even over defendant’s objection. Carter v. Kentucky was applied in James v. Kentucky, 466 U.S. 341 (1984) (request for jury admonition sufficient to invoke right to instruction).

37. Although the Griffin rule continues to apply when the prosecutor on his own initiative asks the jury to draw an adverse inference from a defendant’s silence, it does not apply to a prosecutor’s fair response to a defense counsel’s allegation that the government had denied his client the opportunity to explain his actions. United States v. Robinson, 485 U.S. 25, 32 (1988).

38. Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18 (1967)United States v. Hasting, 461 U.S. 499 (1983).

39. Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U.S. 610 (1976). Post-arrest silence, the Court stated, is inherently ambiguous, and to permit use of the silence would be unfair since the Miranda warning told the defendant he could be silent. The same result had earlier been achieved under the Court’s supervisory power over federal trials in United States v. Hale, 422 U.S. 171 (1975). The same principles apply to bar a prosecutor’s use of Miranda silence as evidence of an arrestee’s sanity. Wainwright v. Greenfield, 474 U.S. 284 (1986). In determining whether a state prisoner is entitled to federal habeas corpus relief because the prosecution violated due process by using his post-Miranda silence for impeachment purposes at trial, the proper standard for harmless-error review is that announced in Kotteakos v. United States, 328 U.S. 750, 776 (1946)—whether the due process error had substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury’s verdict—not the stricter harmless beyond a reasonable doubt standard of Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 24 (1967), applicable on direct review. Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619 (1993)See also Fry v. Pliler, 551 U.S. 112, 114 (2007) (the substantial and injurious effect standard is to be applied in federal habeas proceedings even when the state appellate court failed to recognize the error and did not review it for harmlessness under the 'harmless beyond a reasonable doubt' standard set forth in Chapman v. California).

40. Jenkins v. Anderson, 447 U.S. 231 (1980)Cf. Baxter v. Palmigiano, 425 U.S. 308 (1976) (prison disciplinary hearing may draw adverse inferences from inmate’s assertion of privilege so long as this was not the sole basis of decision against him).

41. Simmons v. United States, 390 U.S. 377 (1968). The rationale of the case was subsequently limited to Fourth Amendment grounds in McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. 183, 210–13 (1971).

42. Harrison v. United States, 392 U.S. 219 (1968).

43. Jackson v. United States, 390 U.S. 570, 583 (1968).

44. Parker v. North Carolina, 397 U.S. 790 (1970)Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742 (1970)McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759 (1970). Parker and Brady entered guilty pleas to avoid the death penalty when it became clear that the prosecution had solid evidence of their guilt; Richardson pled guilty because of his fear that an allegedly coerced confession would be introduced into evidence.

45. McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. 183, 210–20 (1971). When the Court subsequently required bifurcated trials in capital cases, it was on the basis of the Eighth Amendment, and represented no withdrawal from the position described here. Cf. Corbitt v. New Jersey, 439 U.S. 212 (1978)Bordenkircher v. Hayes, 434 U.S. 357 (1978).

46. Williams v. Florida, 399 U.S. 78, 80–86 (1970). The compulsion of choice, Justice White argued for the Court, proceeded from the strength of the state’s case and not from the disclosure requirement. That is, the rule did not affect whether or not the defendant chose to make an alibi defense and to call witnesses, but merely required him to accelerate the timing. It appears, however, that in Brooks v. Tennessee, 406 U.S. 605 (1972), the Court used the needless encouragement test in striking down a state rule requiring the defendant to testify before any other defense witness or to forfeit the right to testify at all. In the Court’s view, this impermissibly burdened the defendant’s choice whether to testify or not. Another prosecution discovery effort was approved in United States v. Nobles, 422 U.S. 233 (1975), in which a defense investigator’s notes of interviews with prosecution witnesses were ordered disclosed to the prosecutor for use in cross-examination of the investigator. The Court discerned no compulsion upon defendant to incriminate himself.

47. The same situation might present itself if there were no statutory presumption and a prima facie case of concealment with knowledge of unlawful importation were made by the evidence. The necessity of an explanation by the accused would be quite as compelling in that case as in this; but the constraint upon him to give testimony would arise there, as it arises here, simply from the force of circumstances and not from any form of compulsion forbidden by the Constitution. Yee Hem v. United States, 268 U.S. 178, 185 (1925), quoted with approval in Turner v. United States, 396 U.S. 398, 418 n.35 (1970). Justices Black and Douglas dissented on self-incrimination grounds. Id. at 425. See also United States v. Gainey, 380 U.S. 63, 71, 74 (1965) (dissenting opinions). For due process limitations on such presumptions, see discussion under the Fourteenth Amendment, Proof, Burden of Proof, and Presumptions, infra.

48. Prosecution may be precluded by tender of immunity (see next topic for discussion of immunity), or by pardon, Brown v. Walker, 161 U.S. 591, 598–99 (1896). The effect of a mere tender of pardon by the President remains uncertain. Cf. Burdick v. United States, 236 U.S. 79 (1915) (acceptance necessary, and self-incrimination is possible in absence of acceptance); Biddle v. Perovich, 274 U.S. 480 (1927) (acceptance not necessary to validate commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment).

49. Brown v. Walker, 161 U.S. 591, 605–06 (1896)Ullmann v. United States, 350 U.S. 422, 430–31 (1956). Minorities in both cases had contended for a broader rule. Walker, 161 U.S. at 631 (Justice Field dissenting); Ullmann, 350 U.S. at 454 (Justice Douglas dissenting).

50. Gardner v. Broderick, 392 U.S. 273, 278 (1968). Testimony compelled under such circumstances is, even in the absence of statutory immunity, barred from use in a subsequent criminal trial by force of the Fifth Amendment itself. Garrity v. New Jersey, 385 U.S. 493 (1967). However, unlike public employees, persons subject to professional licensing by government appear to be able to assert their privilege and retain their licenses. Cf. Spevack v. Klein, 385 U.S. 511 (1967) (lawyer may not be disbarred solely because he refused on self-incrimination grounds to testify at a disciplinary proceeding), approved in Gardner v. Broderick, 392 U.S. at 277–78. Justices Harlan, Clark, Stewart, and White dissented generally. 385 U.S. 500, 520, 530.

51. See Slochower v. Board of Higher Education, 350 U.S. 551 (1956)limited by Lerner v. Casey, 357 U.S. 468 (1958), and Nelson v. County of Los Angeles, 362 U.S. 1 (1960), which were in turn apparently limited by Garrity and Gardner.

52. Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1 (1964) (overruling Twining v. New Jersey, 211 U.S. 78 (1908), and Adamson v. California, 332 U.S. 46 (1947)).

53. Murphy v. Waterfront Comm’n, 378 U.S. 52 (1964), (overruling United States v. Murdock, 284 U.S. 141 (1931) (Federal Government could compel a witness to give testimony that might incriminate him under state law), Knapp v. Schweitzer, 357 U.S. 371 (1958) (state may compel a witness to give testimony that might incriminate him under federal law), and Feldman v. United States, 322 U.S. 487 (1944) (testimony compelled by a state may be introduced into evidence in the federal courts)). Murphy held that a state could compel testimony under a grant of immunity but that, because the state could not extend the immunity to federal courts, the Supreme Court would not permit the introduction of evidence into federal courts that had been compelled by a state or that had been discovered because of state compelled testimony. The result was apparently a constitutionally compelled one arising from the Fifth Amendment itself, 378 U.S. at 75–80, rather than one taken pursuant to the Court’s supervisory power as Justice Harlan would have preferred. Id. at 80 (concurring). Congress has power to confer immunity in state courts as well as in federal in order to elicit information, Adams v. Maryland, 347 U.S. 179 (1954), but whether Congress must do so or whether the immunity would be conferred simply through the act of compelling the testimony Murphy did not say.

Whether testimony could be compelled by either the Federal Government or a state that could incriminate a witness in a foreign jurisdiction is unsettled. See Zicarelli v. New Jersey State Comm’n of Investigation, 406 U.S. 472, 480, 481 (1972) (reserving question), but an affirmative answer seems unlikely. Cf. Murphy, 378 U.S. at 58–63, 77.

54. United States v. Balsys, 524 U.S. 666 (1998).

55. Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616 (1886)But see Fisher v. United States, 425 U.S. 391 (1976).

56. See discussion, supra, under Development and Scope.

57. Shapiro v. United States, 335 U.S. 1, 33 (1948) (quoting Davis v. United States, 328 U.S. 582, 589–90 (1946), which quoted Wilson v. United States, 221 U.S. 361, 380 (1911)). Dicta in Wilson is the source of the required-records doctrine, the holding of the case being the familiar one that a corporate officer cannot claim the privilege against self-incrimination to refuse to surrender corporate records in his custody. Cf. Heike v. United States, 227 U.S. 131 (1913)Davis was a search and seizure case and dealt with gasoline ration coupons which were government property even though in private possession. See Shapiro, 335 U.S. at 36, 56–70 (Justice Frankfurter dissenting).

58. 335 U.S. at 51.

59. 335 U.S. at 32.

60. 335 U.S. at 32.

61. Kastigar v. United States, 406 U.S. 441, 445–46 (1972). It has been held that the Fifth Amendment itself precludes the use as criminal evidence of compelled admissions, Garrity v. New Jersey, 385 U.S. 493 (1967), but this case and dicta in others is unreconciled with the cases that find that one may waive though inadvertently the privilege and be required to testify and incriminate oneself. Rogers v. United States, 340 U.S. 367 (1951).

62. 9 Anne, c. 14, 3-4 (1710). See Kastigar v. United States, 406 U.S. 441, 445 n.13 (1972).

63. Ch. 19, 11 Stat. 155 (1857). There was an exception for perjury committed while testifying before Congress.

64. Ch. 11, 12 Stat. 333 (1862).

65. 142 U.S. 547 (1892). The statute struck down was ch. 13, 15 Stat. 37 (1868).

66. Counselman v. Hitchcock, 142 U.S. 547, 564 (1892)See also id. at 586.

67. 142 U.S. at 585–86.

68. Transactional immunity means that once a witness has been compelled to testify about an offense, he may never be prosecuted for that offense, no matter how much independent evidence might come to light; use immunity means that no testimony compelled to be given and no evidence derived from or obtained because of the compelled testimony may be used if the person is subsequently prosecuted on independent evidence for the offense.

69. Ch. 83, 27 Stat. 443 (1893).

70. Brown v. Walker, 161 U.S. 591 (1896). The majority reasoned that one was excused from testifying only if there could be legal detriment flowing from his act of testifying. If a statute of limitations had run or if a pardon had been issued with regard to a particular offense, a witness could not claim the privilege and refuse to testify, no matter how much other detriment, such as loss of reputation, would attach to his admissions. Therefore, because the statute acted as a pardon or amnesty and relieved the witness of all legal detriment, he must testify. The four dissenters contended essentially that the privilege protected against being compelled to incriminate oneself regardless of any subsequent prosecutorial effort, id. at 610, and that a witness was protected against infamy and disparagement as much as prosecution. Id. at 628.

71. Ullmann v. United States, 350 U.S. 422, 438 (1956) (quoting Shapiro v. United States, 335 U.S. 1, 6 (1948)).

72.  [The] sole concern [of the privilege] is . . . with the danger to a witness forced to give testimony leading to the infliction of ‘penalties affixed to the criminal acts’. . . . Immunity displaces the danger. Once the reason for the privilege ceases, the privilege ceases. 350 U.S. at 438–39. The internal quotation is from Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 634 (1886).

73. Kastigar v. United States, 406 U.S. 441, 457–58 (1972)Piccirillo v. New York, 400 U.S. 548, 571 (1971) (Justice Brennan dissenting). The exception was an immunity provision of the bankruptcy laws, 30 Stat. 548 (1898), 11 U.S.C. § 25(a)(10), repealed by 84 Stat. 931 (1970). The right of a bankrupt to insist on his privilege against self-incrimination as against this statute was recognized in McCarthy v. Arndstein, 266 U.S. 34, 42 (1924), because the present statute fails to afford complete immunity from a prosecution. The statute also failed to prohibit the use of derivative evidence. Arndstein v. McCarthy, 254 U.S. 71 (1920).

74. E.g.Hale v. Henkel, 201 U.S. 43, 67 (1906)United States v. Monia, 317 U.S. 424, 425, 428 (1943)Smith v. United States, 337 U.S. 137, 141, 146 (1949)United States v. Murdock, 284 U.S. 141, 149 (1931)Adams v. Maryland, 347 U.S. 179, 182 (1954). In Ullmann v. United States, 350 U.S. 422, 436–37 (1956), Justice Frankfurter described the holding of Counselman as relating to the absence of a prohibition on the use of derivative evidence.

75. Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1 (1964), extended the clause to the states. That Congress could immunize a federal witness from state prosecution and, of course, extend use immunity to state courts, was held in Adams v. Maryland, 347 U.S. 179 (1954), and had been recognized in Brown v. Walker, 161 U.S. 591 (1896).

76. Murphy v. Waterfront Comm’n, 378 U.S. 52, 77–99 (1964). Concurring, Justices White and Stewart argued at length in support of the constitutional sufficiency of use immunity and the lack of a constitutional requirement of transactional immunity. Id. at 92. See also Gardner v. Broderick, 392 U.S. 273 (1968)Uniformed Sanitation Men Ass’n v. Commissioner of Sanitation, 392 U.S. 280 (1968)Garrity v. New Jersey, 385 U.S. 493 (1967), recognizing the propriety of compelling testimony with a use restriction attached.

77. Marchetti v. United States, 390 U.S. 39, 58 (1968).

78. Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, Pub. L. No. 91-452, § 201(a), 84 Stat. 922, 18 U.S.C. §§ 6002-6003. Justice Department officials have the authority under the Act to decide whether to seek immunity, and courts will not apply constructive use immunity absent compliance with the statute’s procedures. United States v. Doe, 465 U.S. 605 (1984).

79. 406 U.S. 441 (1972). A similar state statute was sustained in Zicarelli v. New Jersey State Comm’n of Investigation, 406 U.S. 472 (1972).

80. Kastigar v. United States, 406 U.S. 441, 459 (1972)See also United States v. Hubbell, 530 U.S. 27 (2000) (because the statute protects against derivative use of compelled testimony, a prosecution cannot be based on incriminating evidence revealed only as the result of compliance with an extremely broad subpoena).

81. 406 U.S. at 453. Joining Justice Powell in the opinion were Justices Stewart, White, and Blackmun, and Chief Justice Burger. Justices Douglas and Marshall dissented, contending that a ban on use could not be enforced even if a use ban was constitutionally adequate. Id. at 462, 467. Justices Brennan and Rehnquist did not participate but Justice Brennan’s views that transactional immunity was required had been previously stated. Piccirillo v. New York, 400 U.S. 548, 552 (1971) (dissenting). See also New Jersey v. Portash, 440 U.S. 450 (1979) (prosecution use of defendant’s immunized testimony to impeach him at trial violates Self-Incrimination Clause). Neither the clause nor the statute prevents the perjury prosecution of an immunized witness or the use of all his testimony to prove the commission of perjury. United States v. Apfelbaum, 445 U.S. 115 (1980)See also United States v. Wong, 431 U.S. 174 (1977)United States v. Mandujano, 425 U.S. 564 (1976). Because use immunity is limited, a witness granted use immunity for grand jury testimony may validly invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege in a civil deposition proceeding when asked whether he had so testified previously, the deposition testimony not being covered by the earlier immunity. Pillsbury Co. v. Conboy, 459 U.S. 248 (1983).

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