BRASWELL V. UNITED STATES, 487 U. S. 99 (1988)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Braswell v. United States, 487 U.S. 99 (1988)

Braswell v. United States

No. 87-3

Argued March 1, 1988

Decided June 22, 1988

487 U.S. 99


A federal grand jury issued a subpoena to petitioner as the president of two corporations, requiring him to produce the corporations' records. The subpoena provided that petitioner could deliver the records to the agent serving the subpoena, and did not require petitioner to testify. The corporations involved were incorporated by petitioner, who is the sole shareholder of one of them. Petitioner, his wife, and his mother are the directors of both corporations, and his wife and mother are secretary-treasurer and vice-president of the corporations, respectively, but neither has any authority over the corporations' business affairs. The District Court denied petitioner's motion to quash the subpoena, holding that the "collective entity doctrine" prevented petitioner from asserting that his act of producing the corporations' records was protected by the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The custodian of corporate records may not resist a subpoena for such records on the ground that the act of production will incriminate him in violation of the Fifth Amendment. This Court's precedents as to the development of the collective entity doctrine do not support petitioner's argument that, even though the contents of subpoenaed business records are not privileged, and even though corporations are not protected by the Fifth Amendment, nevertheless his act of producing the documents has independent testimonial significance, which would incriminate him individually, and that the Fifth Amendment prohibits Government compulsion of that act. If petitioner had conducted his business as a sole proprietorship, United States v. Doe, 465 U. S. 605, would require that he be provided the opportunity to show that his act of production would entail testimonial self-incrimination as to admissions that the records existed, were in his possession, and were authentic. However, representatives of a collective entity act as agents, and the official records of the organization that are held by them in a representative, rather than a personal, capacity cannot be the subject of their personal privilege against self-incrimination, even though production of the papers might tend to incriminate them personally. The plain mandate of the precedents is that the corporate entity doctrine applies regardless of the corporation's size, and regardless of whether the subpoena is addressed

Page 487 U. S. 100

to the corporation or, as here, to the individual in his capacity as the records' custodian. Any claim of Fifth Amendment privilege asserted by the agent would be tantamount to a claim of privilege by the corporation, which possesses no such privilege. Recognizing a Fifth Amendment privilege on behalf of records custodians of collective entities would have a detrimental impact on the Government's efforts to prosecute "white-collar crime." Such impact cannot be satisfactorily minimized by either granting the custodian statutory immunity as to the act of production or addressing the subpoena to the corporation and allowing it to choose an agent to produce the records who can do so without incriminating himself. However, since the custodian acts as the corporation's representative, the act of production is deemed one of the corporation, not the individual, and the Government may make no evidentiary use of the "individual act" of production against the individual. Pp. 487 U. S. 102-119.

814 F.2d 190, affirmed.

REHNQUIST, C.J.,delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. KENNEDY, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and SCALIA, JJ., joined, post, p. 487 U. S. 119.

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