Braswell v. United States

PETITIONER: Randy Braswell
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Worldwide Machinery Sales

DOCKET NO.: 87-3
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 487 US 99 (1988)
ARGUED: Mar 01, 1988
DECIDED: Jun 22, 1988
GRANTED: Oct 05, 1987

ADVOCATES:
Michael S. Fawer - for the Petitioner
Roy T. Englert, Jr. - for the Respondent

Facts of the case

A federal grand jury subpoenaed Randy Braswell, president of Worldwide Machinery Sales Inc. and Worldwide Purchasing Inc., to produce the corporations’ books and records. Braswell refused to produce the documents, citing his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The district court ruled against Braswell, holding that the “collective entity doctrine”, which treats corporations differently from individuals for Fifth Amendment purposes, applied. The court rejected Braswell’s argument that the doctrine does not apply where the corporation is so small that it is merely the individual’s alter ego. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed.

Question

Does the custodian of corporate records have the right to resist a subpoena of those records under his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination?

Media for Braswell v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 01, 1988 in Braswell v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 22, 1988 in Braswell v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

The second case is Braswell against the United States, No. 87-3.

This case comes to us on certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Petitioner, Randy Brasswell is the president and sole stockholder of two Mississippi Corporations.

A federal grand jury issued a subpoena to him in his capacity as president, requiring him to produce the records of these corporations.

The District Court denied Brasswell's motion to quash the subpoena and the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the collective entity doctrine illegal -- and a legal principle developed in our earlier decisions prevented petitioner from claiming that the act of producing these records was protected by his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

We granted certiorari to decide this question because there was a conflict between two different Courts of Appeals on this point.

For the reason set forth and an opinion filed today, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals, holding that the custodian of corporate records may not resist the subpoena for such records on the ground that the act of production will incriminate him in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

Justice Kennedy has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Brennan, Marshall and Scalia have joined.