Bellis v. United States 8212 190, No. 73

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtMARSHALL
Citation94 S.Ct. 2179,40 L.Ed.2d 678,417 U.S. 85
PartiesIsadore H. BELLIS, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES. —190
Docket NumberNo. 73
Decision Date28 May 1974

417 U.S. 85
94 S.Ct. 2179
40 L.Ed.2d 678
Isadore H. BELLIS, Petitioner,

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 73—190.
Argued Feb. 25, 1974.
Decided May 28, 1974.

Syllabus

Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination held not available to member of dissolved law partnership who had been subpoenaed by a grand jury to produce the partnership's financial books and records, since the partnership, though small, had an institutional identity and petitioner held the records in a representative, not a personal, capacity. The privilege is 'limited to its historic function of protecting only the natural individual from compulsory incrimination through his own testimony or personal records.' United States v. White, 322 U.S. 694, 701, 64 S.Ct. 1248, 1252, 88 L.Ed. 1542. Pp. 87—101.

In re Grand Jury Investigation, 3 Cir., 483 F.2d 961, affirmed.

Leonard Sarner, Philadelphia, Pa., for petitioner.

Lawrence G. Wallace, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented in this case is whether a partner in a small law firm may invoke his personal privilege against self-incrimination to justify his refusal to comply with a subpoena requiring production of the partnership's financial records.

Page 86

Until 1969, petitioner Isadore Bellis was the senior partner in Bellis, Kolsby & Wolf, a law firm in Philadelphia. The firm was formed in 1955 or 1956. There were three partners in the firm, the three individuals listed in the firm name. In addition, the firm had six employees: two other attorneys who were associated with the firm, one parttime; three secretaries; and a receptionist. Petitioner's secretary doubled as the partnership's bookkeeper, under the direction of petitioner and the firm's independent accountant. The firm's financial records were therefore maintained in petitioner's office during his tenure at the firm.

Bellis left the firm in late 1969 to join another law firm. The partnership was dissolved, although it is apparently still in the process of winding up its affairs. Kolsby and Wolf continued in practice together as a new partnership, at the same premises. Bellis moved to new offices, leaving the former partnership's financial records with Kolsby and Wolf, where they remained for more than three years. In February or March 1973, however, shortly before issuance of the subpoena in this case, petitioner's secretary, acting at the direction of petitioner or his attorney, removed the records from the old premises and brought them to Bellis' new office.

On May 1, 1973, Bellis was served with a subpoena directing him to appear and testify before a federal grand jury and to bring with him 'all partnership records currently in your possession for the partnership of Bellis, Kolsby & Wolf for the years 1968 and 1969.' App. 6. Petitioner appeared on May 9, but refused to produce the records, claiming, inter alia, his Fifth Amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination. After a hearing before the District Court on May 9 and 10, the court held that petitioner's personal privilege did not extend to the partnership's financial books and records, and ordered

Page 87

their production by May 16.1 When petitioner reappeared before the grand jury on that date and again refused to produce the subpoenaed records, the District Court held him in civil contempt, and released him on his own recognizance pending an expedited appeal.

On July 9, 1973, the Court of Appeals affirmed in a per curiam opinion. In re Grand Jury Investigation, 483 F.2d 961 (CA3 1973). Relying on this Court's decision in United States v. White, 322 U.S. 694, 64 S.Ct. 1248, 88 L.Ed. 1542 (1944), the Court of Appeals stated that 'the privilege has always been regarded as personal in the sense that it applies only to an individual's words or personal papers' and thus held that the privilege against self-incrimination did not apply to 'records of an entity such as a partnership which has a recognizable juridical existence apart from its members.' 483 F.2d, at 962. After Mr. Justice White had stayed the mandate of the Court of Appeals on August 1, we granted certiorari, 414 U.S. 907, 94 S.Ct. 233, 38 L.Ed.2d 145 (1973), to consider this interpretation of the Fifth Amendment privilege and the applicability of our White decision in the circumstances of this case. We affirm.

It has long been established, of course, that the Fifth Amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination protects an individual from compelled production of his personal papers and effects as well as compelled oral testimony. In Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 6 S.Ct. 524, 29 L.Ed. 746 (1886), we held that 'any forcible and compulsory extortion of a man's own testimony, or of his private papers to be used as evidence to convict him of crime' would violate the Fifth Amendment privilege. Id., at 630, 6 S.Ct., at 532; see also id., at 633—635, 6 S.Ct. at 533—535; Wilson v. United States, 221 U.S. 361, 377, 31 S.Ct. 538, 543, 55 L.Ed. 771 (1911). The privilege applies to the business records of

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the sole proprietor or sole practitioner as well as to personal documents containing more intimate information about the individual's private life. Boyd v. United States, supra; Couch v. United States, 409 U.S. 322, 93 S.Ct. 611, 34 L.Ed.2d 548 (1973); Hill v. Philpott, 445 F.2d 144 (CA7), cert. denied, 404 U.S. 991, 92 S.Ct. 533, 30 L.Ed.2d 5 (1971); Stuart v. United States, 416 F.2d 459, 462 (CA5 1969). As the Court explained in United States v. White, supra, 322 U.S. at 698, 64 S.Ct. at 1251, '(t)he constitutional privilege against self-incrimination . . . is designed to prevent the use of legal process to force from the lips of the accused individual the evidence necessary to convict him or to force him to produce and authenticate any personal documents or effects that might incriminate him.' See also Curcio v. United States, 354 U.S. 118, 125, 77 S.Ct. 1145, 1150, 1 L.Ed.2d 1225 (1957); Couch v. United States, supra, 409 U.S. at 330—331, 93 S.Ct. at 616—617.

On the other hand, an equally long line of cases has established that an individual cannot rely upon the privilege to avoid producing the records of a collective entity which are in his possession in a representative capacity, even if these records might incriminate him personally. This doctrine was first announced in a series of cases dealing with corporate records. In Wilson v. United States, supra, the Court held that an officer of a corporation could not claim his privilege against compulsory self-incrimination to justify a refusal to produce the corporate books and records in response to a grand jury subpoena duces tecum directed to the corporation. A companion case, Dreier v. United States, 221 U.S. 394, 31 S.Ct. 550, 55 L.Ed. 784 (1911), held that the same result followed when the subpoena requiring production of the corporate books was directed to the individual corporate officer. In Wheeler v. United States, 226 U.S. 478, 33 S.Ct. 158, 57 L.Ed. 309 (1913), the Court held that no Fifth Amendment privilege could be claimed with respect to corporate records even though the corporation had previously been dissolved. And

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Grant v. United States, 227 U.S. 74, 33 S.Ct. 190, 57 L.Ed. 423 (1913), applied this principle to the records of a dissolved corporation where the records were in the possession of the individual who had been the corporation's sole shareholder.

To some extent, these decisions were based upon the particular incidents of the corporate form, the Court observing that a corporation has limited powers granted to it by the State in its charter, and is subject to the retained 'visitorial power' of the State to investigate its activities. See, e.g., Wilson v. United States, supra, 221 U.S., at 382—385, 31 S.Ct., at 545—546. But any thought that the principle formulated in these decisions was limited to corporate records was put to rest in United States v. White, supra. In White, we held that an officer of an unincorporated association, a labor union, could not claim his privilege against compulsory self-incrimination to justify his refusal to produce the union's records pursuant to a grand jury subpoena. White announced the general rule that the privilege could not be employed by an individual to avoid production of the records of an organization, which he holds in a representative capacity as custodian on behalf of the group. 322 U.S., at 699 700, 64 S.Ct., at 1251—1252. Relying on White, we have since upheld compelled production of the records of a variety of organizations over individuals' claims of Fifth Amendment privilege. See, e.g., United States v. Fleischman, 339 U.S. 349, 357—358, 70 S.Ct. 739, 743—744, 94 L.Ed. 906 (1950) (Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee); Rogers v. United States, 340 U.S. 367, 371—372, 71 S.Ct. 438, 440—442, 95 L.Ed. 344 (1951) (Communist Party of Denver); McPhaul v. United States, 364 U.S. 372, 380, 81 S.Ct. 138, 143, 5 L.Ed.2d 136 (1960) (Civil Rights Congress). See also Curcio v. United States, supra. Ct. 1145, 1 L.Ed.2d 1225 (1957) (local labor union).

These decisions reflect the Court's consistent view that the privilege against compulsory self-incrimination should be 'limited to its historic function of protecting only the natural individual from compulsory incrimination through

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his own testimony or personal records.' United States v. White, supra, 322 U.S. at 701, 64 S.Ct. at 1252. White is only one of the many cases to emphasize that the Fifth Amendment privilege is a purely personal one, most recent among them being the Court's decision last Term in Couch v. United States, 409 U.S., at 327 328, 93 S.Ct., at 615—616. Relying on this fundamental policy limiting the scope of the privilege, the Court in White held that 'the papers and effects which the privilege protects must be the private property of the person claiming the privilege, or at least in...

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460 practice notes
  • People v. Skelton, Cr. 8922
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 26, 1980
    ...against self-incrimination. No testimonial communications were compelled, only corporate records were sought. (Bellis v. United States, 417 U.S. 85, 92 (94 S.Ct. 2179, 2184, 40 L.Ed.2d 678).) The Fifth Amendment protects a person "only against being incriminated by his own compelled testimo......
  • Paul Blanco's Good Car Co. v. Superior Court of Alameda Cnty., A159623
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • October 20, 2020
    ...itself to the sovereign powers of the state. ( Hale , supra , 201 U.S. at pp. 74–75, 26 S.Ct. 370 ; see also Bellis v. United States 417 U.S. 85, 90–91, 94 S.Ct. 2179, 40 L.Ed.2d 678.) Allowing a corporation to hide behind the "cloak of the privilege" against self-incrimination would "large......
  • U.S. v. O'Shea, Miscellaneous Action No. 5:09-mc-00043.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • September 8, 2009
    ...the use of governmental authority to compel an individual to produce "his personal papers and effects." Bellis v. United States, 417 U.S. 85, 87, 94 S.Ct. 2179, 40 L.Ed.2d 678 (1974) (emphasis added). It provides little or no protection to an individual who refuses to produce the documents ......
  • Water Works & Sewer Bd. v. U.S. Dept. of Army, No. CV 95-PT-2956-S.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Alabama
    • October 22, 1997
    ...only the natural individual from compulsory incrimination through his own testimony or personal records.'" Bellis v. United States, 417 U.S. 85, 89-90, 94 S.Ct. 2179, 2183, 40 L.Ed.2d 678 (1974)(quoting United States v. White, 322 U.S. 694, 701, 64 S.Ct. 1248, 1252, 88 L.Ed. 1542 Perhaps th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
458 cases
  • People v. Skelton, Cr. 8922
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 26, 1980
    ...against self-incrimination. No testimonial communications were compelled, only corporate records were sought. (Bellis v. United States, 417 U.S. 85, 92 (94 S.Ct. 2179, 2184, 40 L.Ed.2d 678).) The Fifth Amendment protects a person "only against being incriminated by his own compelled testimo......
  • Paul Blanco's Good Car Co. v. Superior Court of Alameda Cnty., A159623
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • October 20, 2020
    ...itself to the sovereign powers of the state. ( Hale , supra , 201 U.S. at pp. 74–75, 26 S.Ct. 370 ; see also Bellis v. United States 417 U.S. 85, 90–91, 94 S.Ct. 2179, 40 L.Ed.2d 678.) Allowing a corporation to hide behind the "cloak of the privilege" against self-incrimination would "large......
  • U.S. v. O'Shea, Miscellaneous Action No. 5:09-mc-00043.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • September 8, 2009
    ...the use of governmental authority to compel an individual to produce "his personal papers and effects." Bellis v. United States, 417 U.S. 85, 87, 94 S.Ct. 2179, 40 L.Ed.2d 678 (1974) (emphasis added). It provides little or no protection to an individual who refuses to produce the documents ......
  • Water Works & Sewer Bd. v. U.S. Dept. of Army, No. CV 95-PT-2956-S.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Alabama
    • October 22, 1997
    ...only the natural individual from compulsory incrimination through his own testimony or personal records.'" Bellis v. United States, 417 U.S. 85, 89-90, 94 S.Ct. 2179, 2183, 40 L.Ed.2d 678 (1974)(quoting United States v. White, 322 U.S. 694, 701, 64 S.Ct. 1248, 1252, 88 L.Ed. 1542 Perhaps th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • List of Cases Referenced
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 28-1, March 1975
    • March 1, 1975
    ...Texas v. White, 415 U.S. 767 (1974) Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25 (1972)Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186 (1962)Bellis v. United States, 94 S.Ct. 2179 (1974)Berry v. Cincinnati, 414 U.S. 29 Bradley v. Richmond, 94 S.Ct. 2006 (1974)Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665 (1972)Brescia v. New Jersey,......

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