California v. Byers

Decision Date17 May 1971
Docket NumberNo. 75,75
Citation91 S.Ct. 1535,29 L.Ed.2d 9,402 U.S. 424
PartiesCALIFORNIA, Petitioner, v. Jonathan Todd BYERS
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Respondent demurred to a count of an indictment charging him with violating Cal.Vehicle Code § 20002(a)(1) by failing to stop and furnish his name and address after involvement in an automobile accident, resulting in damage to property, on the ground that compliance would have violated his privilege against self-incrimination. His demurrer was sustained by the California Supreme Court, which held that compliance confronted respondent with 'substantial hazards of self-incrimination,' but upheld the statute by inserting a use restriction on the information disclosed. That court concluded that it would be unfair to punish respondent since he could not reasonably have anticipated the use restriction. Held: The judgment is vacated and the case is remanded.

Byers v. Justice Court for the Ukiah Judicial Dist. of Mendocino County, 71 Cal.2d 1039, 80 Cal.Rptr. 553, 458 P.2d 465, vacated and remanded.

THE CHIEF JUSTICE, joined by Mr. Justice Stewart, Mr. Justice WHITE, and Mr. Justice BLACKMUN, concluded that:

1. Compliance with this essentially regulatory and noncriminal statute, where self-reporting is indispensable to its fulfillment, where the burden is on 'the public at large,' as distinguished from a 'highly selective group inherently suspect of criminal activities,' and where the possibility of incrimination is not substantial, does not infringe the privilege against self-incrimination. Pp. 427—431.

2. Even assuming that the statutory requirement of the essentially neutral act of disclosing name and address is incriminating in the traditional sense, it would be an extravagant extension of the privilege to hold that it is testimonial in the Fifth Amendment sense. Just as there is no constitutional right to refuse to file an income tax return, there is no constitutional right to flee the scene of an accident to avoid any possible legal involvement. Pp. 431—434.

Mr. Justice HARLAN concluded that the presence, from the individual's point of view, of a 'real' and not 'inaginary' risk of self-incrimination is not a sufficient predicate for extension of the privilege against self-incrimination to regulatory schemes of the character involved in this case. Considering the noncriminal governmental purpose of securing the information (to ensure financial responsibility for accidents), the necessity for self-reporting as a means of securing the information, and the limited nature of the required disclosures which leaves the 'accusatorial' burden upon the State, the purposes of the Fifth Amendment to not warrant a use restriction as a condition of enforcement of the statute. Pp. 434—458.

Louise H. Renne, San Francisco, Cal., for petitioner.

John W. Poulos, Ukiah, Cal., for respondent.

Mr. Chief Justice BURGER announced the judgment of the Court and an opinion in which Mr. Justice STEWART, Mr. Justice WHITE, and Mr. Justice BLACKMUN join.

This case presents the narrow but important question of whether the constitutional privilege against compulsory self-incrimination is infringed by California's so-called 'hit and run' statute which requires the driver of a motor vehicle involved in an accident to stop at the scene and give his name and address. Similar 'hit and run' or 'stop and report' statutes are in effect in all 50 States and the District of Columbia.

On August 22, 1966, respondent Byers was charged in a two-count criminal complaint with two misdemeanor violations of the California Vehicle Code. Count 1 charged that on August 20 Byers passed another vehicle without maintaining the 'safe distance' required by s 21750 (Supp.1971). The second count charged that Byers had been involved in an accident but had failed to stop and identify himself as required by § 20002(a)(1) (Supp.1971).

This statute provides:1

'The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in damage to any property including vehicles shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident and shall then and there * * * (l)ocate and notify the owner or person in charge of such property of the name and address of the driver and owner of the vehicle involved * * *.'

It is stipulated that both charges arose out of the same accident.

Byers demurred to Count 2 on the ground that it violated his privilege against compulsory self-incrimination. His position was ultimately sustained by the California Supreme Court.2 That court held that the privilege protected a driver who 'reasonably believes that in self-incrimination.' 71 Cal.2d 1039, 1047, 80 Cal.Rptr. 553, 559, 458 P.2d 465, 471 (1969). Here the court found that Byers' apprehensions were reasonable because compliance with § 20002(a)(1) confronted him with 'substantial hazards of self-incrimination.' Nevertheless the court upheld the validity of the statute by inserting a judicially created use restriction on the disclosures that it required. The court concluded, however, that it would be 'unfair' to punish Byers for his failure to comply with the statute because he could not reasonably have anticipated the judicial promulgation of the use restriction.3 We granted certiorari, 397 U.S. 1035, 90 S.Ct. 1352, 25 L.Ed.2d 646 to assess the validity of the California Supreme Court's premise that without a use restriction § 20002(a)(1) would violate the privilege against compulsory self-incrimination. We conclude that there is no conflict between the statute and the privilege.

(1)

Whenever the Court is confronted with the question of a compelled disclosure that has an incriminating potential, the judicial scrutiny is invariably a close one. Tension between the State's demand for disclosures and the protection of the right against self-incrimination is likely to give rise to serious questions. Inevitably these must be resolved in terms of balancing the public need on the one hand, and the individual claim to constitutional protections on the other; neither interest can be treated lightly.

An organized society imposes many burdens on its constituents. It commands the filing of tax returns for income; it requires producers and distributors of consumer goods to file informational reports on the manu- facturing process and the content of products, on the wages, hours, and working conditions of employees. Those who borrow money on the public market or issue securities for sale to the public must file various information reports; industries must report periodically the volume and content of pollutants discharged into our waters and atmosphere. Comparable examples are legion.4

In each of these situations there is some possibility of prosecution—often a very real one—for criminal offenses disclosed by or deriving from the information that the law compels a person to supply. Information revealed by these reports could well be 'a link in the chain' of evidence leading to prosecution and conviction. But under our holdings the mere possibility of incrimination is insufficient to defeat the strong policies in favor of a disclosure called for by statutes like the one challenged here.

United States v. Sullivan, 274 U.S. 259, 47 S.Ct. 607, 71 L.Ed. 1037 (1927), shows that an application of the privilege to the California statute is not warranted. There a bootlegger was prosecuted for failure to file an income tax return. He claimed that the privilege against compulsory self-incrimination afforded him a complete defense because filing a return would have tended to incriminate him by revealing the unlawful source of his income. Speaking for the Court, Mr. Justice Holmes rejected this claim on the ground that it amounted to 'an extreme if not an extravagant application of the Fifth Amendment.' Id., at 263—264, 47 S.Ct., at 607.5 Sullivan's tax return, of course, increased his risk of prosecution and conviction for violation of the National Prohibition Act. But the Court had no difficulty in concluding that an extension of the privilege to cover that kind of mandatory report would have been unjustified. In order to invoke the privilege it is necessary to show that the compelled disclosures will themselves confront the claimant with 'substantial hazards of self-incrimination.'

The components of this requirement were articulated in Albertson v. SACB, 382 U.S. 70, 86 S.Ct. 194, 15 L.Ed.2d 165 (1965), and later in Marchetti v. United States, 390 U.S. 39, 88 S.Ct. 697, 19 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968), Grosso v. United States, 390 U.S. 62, 88 S.Ct. 709, 19 L.Ed.2d 906 (1968), and Haynes v. United States, 390 U.S. 85, 88 S.Ct. 722, 19 L.Ed.2d 923 (1968). In Albertson the Court held that an order requiring registration by individual members of a Communist organization violated the privilege. There Sullivan was distinguished:

'In Sullivan the questions in the income tax return were neutral on their face and directed at the public at large, but here they are directed at a highly selective group inherently suspect of criminal activities. Petitioners' claims are not asserted in an essentially noncriminal and regulatory area of inquiry, but against an inquiry in an area permeated with criminal statutes, where response to any of the * * * questions in context might involve the petitioners in the admission of a crucial element of a crime.' 382 U.S., at 79, 86 S.Ct., at 199 (emphasis added).

Albertson was followed by Marchetti and Grosso where the Court held that the privilege afforded a complete defense to prosecutions for noncompliance with federal gambling tax and registration requirements. It was also followed in Haynes where petitioner had been prosecuted for failure to register a firearm as required by federal statute. In each of these cases the Court found that compliance with the statutory disclosure requirements would confront the petitioner with 'substantial hazards of self-incrimination.' E.g., Marchetti v. United States, 390 U.S., at 61, 88 S.Ct., at 709.

In...

To continue reading

Request your trial
331 cases
  • Michael W. v. Superior Court of Orange County
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • October 24, 1983
    ...otherwise. (See, e.g., Byers v. Justice Court (1969) 71 Cal.2d 1039, 80 Cal.Rptr. 553, 458 P.2d 465, sub nom. California v. Byers (1971) 402 U.S. 424, 91 S.Ct. 1535, 29 L.Ed.2d 9; Veh.Code. § Finally, we address the question of whether statements made to a psychiatric expert retained on the......
  • United States v. General Motors Corporation
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
    • October 24, 1975
    ...it in terms of that line of cases upholding notification requirements in essentially regulatory schemes, see California v. Byers, 402 U.S. 424, 91 S.Ct. 1535, 29 L.Ed.2d 9 (1971) and United States v. Sullivan, 274 U.S. 259, 47 S.Ct. 607, 71 L.Ed. 1037 (1927), and those cases which invalidat......
  • People v. Rucker
    • United States
    • California Supreme Court
    • January 29, 1980
    ...inter alia, his name, residence and business address with the local Internal Revenue Service); compare, California v. Byers (1971) 402 U.S. 424, 91 S.Ct. 1535, 29 L.Ed.2d 9.) It is not just the nature of the information revealed but the potential for incrimination under all the circumstance......
  • Hartman v. Switzer, Civ. A. No. 73-788.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • May 21, 1974
    ...There is no constitutional right to refuse to file an income tax return because of the Fifth Amendment. See California v. Byers, 402 U.S. 424, 91 S.Ct. 1535, 29 L.Ed.2d 9 (1971); California Bankers Assn. v. Shultz, Secretary of the Treasury, ___ U.S. ___, 94 S.Ct. 1494, 39 L.Ed.2d 812 (deci......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
23 books & journal articles
  • Table of Cases
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Illinois Pretrial Practice. Volume 2 - 2014 Contents
    • August 12, 2014
    ...(1st Dist 1987), §2:316 Caliendo v. Public Taxi Service, Inc ., 70 Ill App 2d 86, 217 NE2d 369 (1st Dist 1966), §9:51 California v. Byers, 402 US 424, 91 S Ct 1535 (1971), §21:214 Callis, Papa, Jackstadt & Halloran, P.C. v. Norfolk and Western Railway Company , 195 Ill2d 356 (2001), §§16:23......
  • Suppressing Involuntary Confessions
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Suppressing Criminal Evidence - 2016 Contents
    • August 4, 2016
    ..., 385 U.S. 511 (1967)). However a state can order compliance with mandatory requirements of its hit and run statute. California v. Byers , 402 U.S. 424 (1971). Just because “incriminating evidence may be the byproduct of obedience to a regulatory scheme, such as maintaining required records......
  • Suppressing involuntary confessions
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Suppressing Criminal Evidence Confessions and other statements
    • April 1, 2022
    ..., 385 U.S. 511 (1967)). However a state can order compliance with mandatory requirements of its hit and run statute. California v. Byers , 402 U.S. 424 (1971). Just because “incriminating evidence may be the byproduct of obedience to a regulatory scheme, such as maintaining required records......
  • Suppressing Involuntary Confessions
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Suppressing Criminal Evidence - 2017 Contents
    • August 4, 2017
    ..., 385 U.S. 511 (1967)). However a state can order compliance with mandatory requirements of its hit and run statute. California v. Byers , 402 U.S. 424 (1971). Just because “incriminating evidence may be the byproduct of obedience to a regulatory scheme, such as maintaining required records......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT