431 U.S. 181 (1977), 74-1106, United States v. Washington

Docket Nº:No. 74-1106
Citation:431 U.S. 181, 97 S.Ct. 1814, 52 L.Ed.2d 238
Party Name:United States v. Washington
Case Date:May 23, 1977
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 181

431 U.S. 181 (1977)

97 S.Ct. 1814, 52 L.Ed.2d 238

United States



No. 74-1106

United States Supreme Court

May 23, 1977

Argued December 6, 1976



Respondent, who was suspected, with others, of possible implication in a theft, was subpoenaed to appear as a witness before the District of Columbia grand jury investigating the crime. The prosecutor did not advise respondent before his appearance that he might be indicted for the theft, but respondent was given a series of warnings after being sworn, including the warning that he had a right to remain silent. Respondent nevertheless testified, and subsequently was indicted for the theft. The trial court granted respondent's motion to suppress his grand jury testimony and to quash the indictment on the ground that it was based on evidence obtained in violation of his Fifth Amendment privilege against compelled self-incrimination. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed the suppression order, holding that "the most significant failing of the prosecutor was in not advising [respondent] that he was a potential defendant" and that

[a]nother shortcoming was in the prosecutor's waiting until after administering the oath in the cloister of the grand jury before undertaking to furnish what advice was given.

Held: Respondent's grand jury testimony may properly be used against him in a subsequent trial. The comprehensive warnings he received, whether or not such warnings were constitutionally required, dissipated any element of compulsion to self-incrimination that might otherwise have been present. The fact that a subpoenaed grand jury witness is a putative or potential defendant neither impairs nor enlarges his constitutional rights, and hence it is unnecessary to give such a defendant the warnings that the Court of Appeals held were required. Pp. 186-190.

328 A.2d 98, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 191.

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BURGER, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented in this case is whether testimony given by a grand jury witness suspected of wrongdoing may be used against him in a later prosecution for a substantive criminal offense when the witness was not informed in advance of his testimony that he was a potential defendant in danger of indictment.1


The facts are not in dispute. Zimmerman and Woodard were driving respondent's van truck when a Washington, D.C. policeman stopped them for a traffic offense. Seeing a motorcycle in the rear of the van which he identified as stolen, the officer arrested both men and impounded respondent's vehicle. When respondent came to reclaim the van, he told police that Zimmerman and Woodard were friends who were driving the van with his permission.

He explained the presence of the stolen motorcycle by saying that, while driving the van himself, he had stopped to assist an unknown motorcyclist whose machine had broken down. Respondent then allowed the motorcycle to be placed in his van to take it for repairs. Soon after this, the van stalled, and he walked to a nearby gasoline station to call Zimmerman and Woodard for help, leaving the van with the unknown

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motorcyclist. After reaching Zimmerman by phone, respondent waited at the gasoline station for his friends, then returned to the spot he had left the van when they failed to appear; by that time, the van had disappeared. Respondent said he was not alarmed, assuming his friends had repaired the van and driven it away. Shortly thereafter, Zimmerman and Woodard were arrested with the stolen motorcycle in the van.

Not surprisingly, the officer to whom respondent related this tale was more than a little skeptical; he told respondent he did not believe his story, and advised him not to repeat it in court, "because you're liable to be in trouble if you [do so]." The officer also declined to release the van. Respondent then repeated this story to an Assistant United States Attorney working on the case. The prosecutor, too, was dubious of the account; nevertheless, he released the van to respondent. At the same time, he served respondent with a subpoena to appear before the grand jury investigating the motorcycle theft.

When respondent appeared before the grand jury, the Assistant United States Attorney in charge had not yet decided whether to seek an indictment against him. The prosecutor was aware of respondent's explanation, and was also aware of the possibility that respondent could be indicted by the grand jury for the theft if his story was not believed.

[97 S.Ct. 1817] The prosecutor did not advise respondent before his appearance that he might be indicted on a criminal charge in connection with the stolen motorcycle. But respondent, after reciting the usual oath to tell the truth, was given a series of other warnings, as follows:

Q. . . .

You have a right to remain silent. You are not required to say anything to us in this Grand Jury at any time or to answer any question.2

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Anything you say can be used against you in Court.

You have the right to talk to a lawyer for advice before we question you and have him outside the Grand Jury during any questioning.

If you cannot afford a lawyer and want one, a lawyer will be provided for you.

If you want to answer questions now without a lawyer present you will still have the right to stop answering at any time.

You also have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to a lawyer.

Now, do you understand those rights, sir?

A Yes, I do.

Q And do you want to answer questions of the Grand Jury in reference to a stolen motorcycle that was found in your truck?

A Yes, sir.

Q And do you want a lawyer here or outside the Grand Jury room while you answer those questions?

A No, I don't think so.

In response to questions, respondent again related his version of how the stolen motorcycle came to be in the rear of his van. Subsequently, the grand jury indicted respondent, Zimmerman, and Woodard for grand larceny and receiving stolen property.

Respondent moved to suppress his testimony and quash the indictment, arguing that it was based on evidence obtained in violation of his Fifth Amendment privilege against compelled self-incrimination. The Superior Court for the District of

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Columbia suppressed the testimony and dismissed the indictment, holding that before the Government could use respondent's grand jury testimony at trial, it had first to demonstrate that respondent had knowingly waived his privilege against compelled self-incrimination. Notwithstanding the comprehensive warnings described earlier, the court found no effective waiver had been made, holding that respondent was not properly advised of his Fifth Amendment rights. The court thought the Constitution required, at a minimum, that

inquiry be made of the suspect to determine what his educational background is, and what his formal education is and whether or not he understands that this is a constitutional privilege and...

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