Doe v. United States Case Brief

Facts of the Case

“An individual, who was the target of a federal grand jury investigation into suspected fraudulent manipulation of oil cargoes and the receipt of unreported income, appeared before the grand jury, pursuant to a subpoena, which directed the target to produce records of transactions in accounts in three named foreign banks in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. The target produced some materials but, when asked about additional records, invoked theprivilege against self-incrimination. Meanwhile, the United States branches of the three foreign banks refused to comply with similar bank-record subpoenas, on the ground that they were prohibited from doing so by foreign bank-secrecy laws. The Federal Government then sought, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, an order which would compel the target to sign a form consenting to disclosure of his foreign bank records. After the District Court initially refused, on the ground that the Federal Government’s proposal violated the target’s privilege against self-incrimination, the Federal Government sought reconsideration to order the target’s signature on a revised form, one which (1) purported to apply to any and all bank accounts over which the target had a right of withdrawal, without acknowledging the existence of any such account, (2) indicated that the form was being executed pursuant to a court order, and (3) stated that the form would be “construed as” consent. The District Court, however, also denied this motion and reasoned that the target’s execution of the revised form (1) might lead to the uncovering and linking of the target to accounts that the grand jury did not know were in existence, (2) would admit signatory authority over the speculative accounts, and (3) would implicitly authenticate any records of any accounts provided for the banks pursuant to the consent. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, and expressed the view that the target could not assert hisprivilege as a basis for refusing to sign the revised form, because the form did not have testimonial significance. After the District Court had ordered the target to execute the revised form, and had found him in civil contempt for refusing to do so, the Court of Appeals affirmed the contempt order.”




“Justice Harry A. Blackmun, writing for an 8-1 majority, held that such a court order does not implicate the Fifth Amendment. First, he noted that it is undisputed that the contents of foreign bank accounts are not privileged under the Fifth Amendment. Furthermore, the Fifth Amendment only protects individuals from being incriminated by their “own compelled testimonial communications.” The foreign bank statements, and the requisite authorization document, do not fit into this definition.The Court made further analogies to situations where a defendant may be required to give “incriminating” information without invoking the Fifth Amendment. These include: blood samples, lineups, handwriting samples, voice samples, or wearing particular clothing. Finally, the authorization in this case did not list specific information that the government needed for the case. Rather, this authorization simply gave the government the ability to search for the evidence without providing any information on any accounts, documents, banks, or other incriminating evidence.Justice John Paul Stevens, in a dissenting opinion, made an argument distinguishing this situation from the other situations discussed by the Court. Unlike lineups, fingerprints, or blood samples, this case forced the defendant to use his mind in assisting the government’s case. Therefore, Justice Stevens felt that this action violated the Fifth Amendment.”

Case Information

Citation: 487 US 201 (1988)
Argued: Mar 2, 1988
Decided: Jun 22, 1988
Granted: Oct 5, 1987
Case Brief: 1988