United States v. Hubbell Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The defendant, Webster Hubbell (the “defendant”), asserted his privilege against self incrimination when he was subpoenaed to produce documents. The government granted him immunity but then proceeded to use the documents to obtain an indictment against him from the Grand Jury.

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.

Question

Whether the Fifth Amendment constitutional privilege against compelled self-incrimination and 18 U.S.C Section:6002 allows a witness to withhold disclosure of incriminating documents that the Government is unable to describe with reasonable particularity?

Answer

The constitutional privilege against self-incrimination protects the target of a grand jury investigation from being compelled to answer questions designed to elicit information about the existence of sources of potentially incriminating evidence without first obtaining immunity under 18 U.S.C. Section:6002.

Conclusion

The court held that respondent could not be compelled to produce the documents requested by petitioner without first receiving a grant of immunity because it was co-extensive with the constitutional privilege against self-incrimination. The constitutional self-incrimination privilege applied to testimonial aspects of a response to a subpoena and petitioner had not shown any prior knowledge of documents respondent produced under subpoena.

  • Case Brief: 2000
  • Petitioner: United States
  • Respondent: Hubbell
  • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

Citation: 530 US 27 (2000)
Argued: Feb 22, 2000
Decided: Jun 5, 2000