Doe v. United States

RESPONDENT:United States
LOCATION:Office of Chief Judge Southern District of Texas McAllen Division

DOCKET NO.: 86-1753
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 487 US 201 (1988)
ARGUED: Mar 02, 1988
DECIDED: Jun 22, 1988
GRANTED: Oct 05, 1987

Charles A. Rothfeld – on behalf of the Respondent
Richard E. Timbie – on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

John Doe, an unnamed defendant, was subpoenaed by a grand jury in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas for possible fraudulent manipulation of oil cargoes and receipt of unreported income. As part of the grand jury’s investigation, Doe was directed to produce records from bank holdings in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. Doe proceeded to disclose some records but invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination regarding any other documents.

The United States then served subpoenas on three of Doe’s foreign banks, ordering them to release Doe’s information. The banks refused to release this information without Doe’s consent. The government then sought to have the district court order Doe to sign the bank forms authorizing his banks to release the information.

The district court refused, stating that Doe had not been indicted for any crime and that forcing him to disclose this information would amount to a “fishing expedition” for incriminating evidence; precisely the kind of action that the 5th Amendment sought to prevent. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed and ordered that Doe be held in contempt if he did not consent to the release of records. Doe refused and appealed. The Fifth Circuit again affirmed.


Does a court’s order that a citizen who has not yet been indicted by a grand jury must authorize the release of undisclosed foreign bank documents violate the Fifth Amendment?

Media for Doe v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 02, 1988 in Doe v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 22, 1988 in Doe v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 86-1753, Doe against the United States will be announced by Justice Blackmun.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Well, this case comes to us from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Petitioner is the target of a federal grand jury investigation and pursuant to a subpoena he produced some records but invoked the Fifth Amendment when he was questioned about the existence or location of additional records.

There were foreign banks concerned and they refused to comply with subpoenas served upon them.

The Government then filed a motion for an order directing the petitioner to sign a consent directive authorizing those banks to disclose records of any and all accounts without identifying or acknowledging their existence.

The District Court denied that motion.

The Court of Appeals, however, disagreed and it ordered that petitioner to execute the consent directive and he refused and was found to be in civil contempt, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

In an opinion filed today, we affirm that judgment.

The consent directive here is not testimonial in nature and compelling the petitioner to sign it does not violate his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion.