United States v. Aguilar

Facts of the Case

A United States District Court judge, Robert P. Aguilar, was approached by an acquaintance, a distant relation by marriage, for assistance in the matter of a third party’s motion to have a conviction set aside. As a result, Aguilar spoke about the matter with the judge to whom the motion had been assigned, and learned that the acquaintance had been named on a wiretap authorization as a potential interceptee. Some months later, Aguilar notified his nephew of the existence of the wiretap, with the intent that the information be relayed to the acquaintance. The authorization had, in fact, expired at the time of this disclosure. Two months later, a grand jury began to investigate an alleged conspiracy to influence the outcome of the third party’s case, and when two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents questioned the Aguilar, he lied to the FBI agents about both his participation in the case and his knowledge of the wiretap. Aguilar was convicted of illegally disclosing a wiretap in violation of

Question

(1) Can an individual who endeavors to obstruct a grand jury proceeding by making false and misleading statements to prospective witnesses be prosecuted for obstruction of justice?(2) Can an individual who knows of a wiretap and discloses it to a target in order to obstruct the interception of the target’s conversations be found guilty, regardless of whether the authorization had expired by the time the disclosure was made?

CONCLUSION

No, Yes. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the court, affirming in part and reversing in part. The Supreme Court held that making false statements to an FBI agent who may or may not testify at trial is not sufficient to support a conviction for obstruction of justice. Aguilar’s conviction for disclosing a wiretap was proper, however, because the statute does not require that the wiretap is currently in force. The First Amendment did not require excluding expired wiretaps from the statute either.Justice John Paul Stevens concurred in part and dissented in part, agreeing that Aguilar’s conviction for obstructing justice should be overturned, but arguing that the wiretapping conviction should be overturned as well. There was no way Aguilar could interfere with a wiretap that no longer existed.Justice Antonin Scalia also concurred in part and dissented in part, agreeing to affirm the disclosure of wiretapping conviction, but arguing that the obstruction of justice should be affirmed as well.

Case Information

  • Citation: 515 US 593 (1995)
  • Argued:: Mar 20, 1995
  • Decided: Jun 21, 1995