397 U.S. 1 (1970), 87, United States v. Kordel

Docket Nº:No. 87
Citation:397 U.S. 1, 90 S.Ct. 763, 25 L.Ed.2d 1
Party Name:United States v. Kordel
Case Date:February 24, 1970
Court:United States Supreme Court

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397 U.S. 1 (1970)

90 S.Ct. 763, 25 L.Ed.2d 1

United States

v.

Kordel

No. 87

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 24, 1970

Argued November 20, 1969

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondents are corporate officers who, with the corporation, were convicted of violating the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. An in rem action against two corporate products had been begun in June, 1960, and interrogatories routinely prepared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were submitted to the corporation in January, 1961. Later that month, the corporation and respondents were notified, pursuant to § 305 of the Act, that the FDA contemplated a criminal proceeding against them respecting the transactions that were the subject of the civil action. In June, 1961, the District Court denied the corporation's motion to stay further proceedings in the civil action or to extend the time for answering the interrogatories until after disposition of any criminal proceeding. The FDA recommended criminal prosecution prior to the September answer to the interrogatories by the corporation through respondent Feldten. No one associated with the corporation asserted his privilege against self-incrimination. The Court of Appeals reversed respondents' convictions on the ground that use of interrogatories to obtain evidence in a nearly contemporaneous civil condemnation proceeding operated to violate their Fifth Amendment privilege.

Held:

1. The Court of Appeals erred in holding that the answers to the interrogatories were involuntarily given. Pp. 6-11.

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(a) Respondent Feldten, who was not barred from asserting his privilege against self-incrimination because the corporation had no privilege of its own or because the proceeding was civil, rather than criminal, failed to assert his privilege, and cannot now complain that he was forced to testify against himself. Pp. 7-10.

(b) Respondent Kordel, who answered no interrogatories and did not assert the privilege, can hardly claim compulsory self-incrimination, and Kordel cannot claim that his right to confrontation was violated by use in the criminal case against him of his codefendant Feldten's admissions, which were never introduced in evidence. Pp. 10-11.

2. On the record here the respondents have not established a violation of due process or a departure from proper standards in the administration of justice requiring the exercise of the Court's supervisory power. Pp. 11-13.

407 F.2d 570, reversed and remanded.

Per curiam opinion.

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The respondents are the president and vice-president, respectively, of Detroit Vital Foods, Inc. They were convicted in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, along with the corporation, for violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.1 The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the respondents' convictions on the ground that the Government's use of interrogatories to obtain evidence

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from the respondents in a nearly contemporaneous civil condemnation proceeding operated to violate their Fifth Amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination.2 We granted certiorari to consider the questions [90 S.Ct. 765] raised by the Government's invocation of simultaneous civil and criminal proceedings in the enforcement of federal law.3

In March, 1960, the Division of Regulatory Management of the Food and Drug Administration (hereafter FDA) instructed the agency's Detroit office to investigate the respondents' possible violations of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Within a month, the Detroit office recommended to the Division a civil seizure of two of the respondents' products, "Korleen" and "Frutex"; within another month, the Division similarly recommended seizure to the FDA's General Counsel. On June 6, 1960, the General Counsel requested the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan to commence an in rem action against these products of the corporation, and the United States Attorney filed a libel three days later. The corporation, appearing as the claimant, answered the libel on September 12, 1960. An FDA official in the Division of Regulatory Management then prepared extensive interrogatories to be served on the corporation in this civil action. The United States Attorney filed the agency's interrogatories on January 6, 1961, pursuant to Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.4

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After the Division official had drafted the interrogatories, he recommended that, pursuant to § 305 of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the FDA served upon the corporation and the respondents a notice that the agency contemplated a criminal proceeding against them with respect to the transactions that were the subject of the civil action.5 On January 9, 1961, three days after the filing of the interrogatories in the civil action, the Detroit office received an instruction from the Division to serve the statutory notice. The Detroit office complied 10 days later, and, on March 8, 1961, the agency held a hearing on the notice.

On April 10, the corporation, having received the FDA's interrogatories but not yet having answered them, moved to stay further proceedings in the civil action or, in the alternative, to extend the time to answer the interrogatories until after disposition of the criminal proceeding signaled by the § 305 notice. The motion was accompanied by the affidavit of counsel. The moving papers urged the District Court to act under Rule 33 "in the interest of substantial justice" and as a "balancing

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of hardship and equities of the respective parties. . . ." Permitting the Government to obtain proof of violations of the Act by resort to civil discovery procedures, the movant urged, would be "improper," and would "work a grave injustice against [90 S.Ct. 766] the claimant"; it would also enable the Government to have pretrial discovery of the respondents' defenses to future criminal charges. Counsel expressly disavowed any "issue of a self-incrimination privilege in favor of the claimant corporation." And nowhere in the moving papers did counsel raise a claim of the Fifth Amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination with respect to the respondents.

On June 21, 1961, the District Court denied the motion upon finding that the corporation had failed to demonstrate that substantial prejudice and harm would result from being required to respond to the interrogatories. The court reasoned that the § 305 notice did not conclusively indicate the Government would institute a criminal proceeding, that six to 12 months could elapse from the service of the statutory notice to initiation of a criminal prosecution, and that the Government could obtain data for a prosecution from the testimony in the civil action or by subpoenaing the books and records of the corporation. Accordingly, the court concluded, the interests of justice did not require that the Government be denied the information it wanted simply because it had sought it by way of civil discovery procedures. On September 5, 1961, in compliance with the court's directive, the corporation, through the respondent Feldten, answered the Government's interrogatories.

On July 28, 1961, five weeks after the District Court's order but more than a month before receipt of the answers to the interrogatories, the Director of the FDA's Detroit office recommended a criminal prosecution to the Division. The Division forwarded the recommendation

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to the General Counsel on August 31, 1961, still prior to receipt of Feldten's answers. While the matter was pending in the General Counsel's office, the Division officer who had originally drafted the proposed interrogatories recommended that additional violations of the statute be alleged in the indictment. On June 13, 1962, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare requested the Department of Justice to institute a criminal proceeding, and, about two months after that, the latter department instructed the United States Attorney in Detroit to seek an indictment. The civil case, still pending in the District Court, proceeded to settlement by way of a consent decree in November, 1962, and, eight months later, the Government obtained the indictment underlying the present judgments of conviction.

I

At the outset, we assume that the information Feldten supplied the Government in his answers to the interrogatories, if not necessary to the proof of the Government's case in the criminal prosecution, as the Court of Appeals thought, at least provided evidence or leads useful to the Government.6 However, the record amply supports the express finding of the District Judge who presided at the criminal trial, and who held an extensive evidentiary hearing on the respondents' pretrial motion to suppress evidence, that the Government did not act in bad faith in filing the interrogatories. Rather, the testimony before the trial court demonstrated that the Division of Regulatory Management regularly prepares such interrogatories upon the receipt of claimants' answers to civil libels, and files them in over three-fourths of such cases, to hasten their disposition by securing

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admissions and laying the foundation for summary judgments.

The Court of Appeals thought the answers to the interrogatories were involuntarily given. The District Judge's order denying the corporation's motion to [90 S.Ct. 767] defer the answers to the interrogatories, reasoned the court, left the respondents with three choices: they could have refused to answer, thereby forfeiting the corporation's property that was the subject of the libel; they could have given false answers to the interrogatories, thereby subjecting themselves to the risk of a prosecution for perjury; or they could have done just what they did -- disclose...

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