United States v. Hubbell

PETITIONER:United States
LOCATION:Florida State University

DOCKET NO.: 99-166
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 530 US 27 (2000)
ARGUED: Feb 22, 2000
DECIDED: Jun 05, 2000

John W. Nields, Jr. – Argued the cause for the respondent
Michael R. Dreeben – Argued the cause for the Justice Department, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court, supporting the Independent Counsel
Ronald J. Mann – Argued the cause for petitioner

Facts of the case

In 1994, Webster Hubbell, in a plea agreement, promised to provide the Independent Counsel with information about matters relating to the Whitewater investigation. Subsequently, the Independent Counsel served Hubbell with a subpoena calling for such information, and Hubbell invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and refused to state whether he had the documents the Independent Counsel demanded. After being granted immunity, pursuant to 18 USC section 6003 (a), Hubbell produced the desired documents. The Independent Counsel then used those documents to indict Hubbell on tax and fraud charges. The District Court dismissed the indictment because the evidence that would be used against Hubbell was derived either directly or indirectly from his immunized act of producing those documents. Vacating that decision, the Court of Appeals directed the District Court to determine the scope of the Government’s knowledge of Hubbell’s financial affairs on the day the subpoena was issued. The court determined that if the Government could not demonstrate with reasonable particularity that there existed a prior awareness of the contents of the documents and that those documents were in Hubbell’s possession, then the indictment was tainted. After acknowledging he could not meet this standard, the Independent Counsel entered into a conditional plea agreement providing for the dismissal of the indictment, unless the Supreme Court’s disposition of the case made it reasonably likely that Hubbell’s immunity would not pose a significant bar to his prosecution.


Does the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination protect a witness from being compelled to disclose the existence of incriminating documents that the Government is unable to describe with reasonable particularity? If the witness produces such documents, pursuant to a grant of immunity, may the Government use them to prepare criminal charges against him?

Media for United States v. Hubbell

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – February 22, 2000 in United States v. Hubbell

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 05, 2000 in United States v. Hubbell

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 99-166, United States against Hubbell will be announced by Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

This case comes to us on from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

It presents a question whether the Fifth Amendment privilege against compelled self-incrimination prohibits the government from using incriminating documents produced under a grant of immunity to prepare charges against the immunized party.

Because the government has not shown that its evidence against respondent Hubbell was derived from sources wholly independent of the testimonial aspect of his immunized conduct in assembling and producing the subpoenaed documents.

We hold that the indictment against him must be dismissed.

The indictment at issue is the second prosecution of Hubbell by the independent counsel appointed in August 1994 to investigate possible violations of federal law relating to the Whitewater Development Corporation.

The foundation for this prosecution was the subpoena requiring Hubbell to produce all documents in his control that fit any of several broad descriptions.

After invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege in receiving a grant of immunity coextensive with the scope of that privilege, Hubbell produced the documents.

The independent counsel made substantial use of those documents in the investigation leading to the indictment.

The District Court granted Hubbell’s motion to dismiss the indictment holding that the government use of the subpoenaed documents violated his grant of immunity, because all of the evidence against him was derived either directly or indirectly from the testimonial aspects of his immunized act of producing the documents.

The Court of Appeals vacated and remanded directing the District Court to permit the prosecution to proceed if the independent counsel could establish prior knowledge that the incriminating documents existed and were in Hubbell’s possession.

Acknowledging that he could not meet their standard, the counsel filed a petition for writ of certiorari which we granted.

Our analysis of the issues presented begins with the summary of our prior cases interpreting the Fifth Amendment privilege and the equivalent protection provided by a grant of statutory use and derivative use immunity.

A particular relevance in this case is our recognition that the act of producing documents in response to a subpoena may have an implicit testimonial aspect that is protected by the privilege, even though the contents of the documents produced are not protected.

Applying these principles to this case, we conclude that Hubbell’s act of producing the subpoenaed documents did have a testimonial aspect and that the government made derivative use of it in obtaining the indictment against him and preparing the case for a trial.

Clearly the mental and physical steps that subpoena compelled Hubbell to take in order to provide the government with an accurate inventory of the many sources of requested evidence, provided a link in the chain of evidence needed to prosecute it.

In light of counsel’s failure to show that his evidence against Hubbell was derived from sources wholly independent of these steps, the immunity granted to Hubbell shields him from prosecution.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is affirmed.

Justice Thomas has filed a concurring opinion in which Justice Scalia has joined; the Chief Justice has filed a dissenting statement.