Curcio v. United States, No. 260

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBURTON
Citation1 L.Ed.2d 1225,77 S.Ct. 1145,354 U.S. 118
Docket NumberNo. 260
Decision Date10 June 1957
PartiesJoseph CURCIO, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES of America

354 U.S. 118
77 S.Ct. 1145
1 L.Ed.2d 1225
Joseph CURCIO, Petitioner,

v.

UNITED STATES of America.

No. 260.
Argued March 28, 1957.
Decided June 10, 1957.

Mr. Samuel Mezansky, New York City (Mr. Daniel H. Greenberg, New York City, with him on the brief), for petitioner.

Miss Beatrice Rosenberg, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BURTON delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue in this case is whether the custodian of a union's books and records may, on the ground of his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, refuse to

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answer questions asked by a federal grand jury as to the whereabouts of such books and records which he has not produced pursuant to subpoena. For the reasons hereafter stated, we hold that the privilege against self-incrimination attaches to such questions.

In April 1956, a special grand jury in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York was investigating racketeering in the garment and trucking industries in New York City. This investigation followed wide-spread charges of racketeering in labor unions, including specific charges that seven local unions had been recently chartered by a faction of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to gain control of the Teamsters' New York Joint Council, and that these 'phantom unions' were controlled by a group of gangsters, ex-convicts and labor racketeers.

Petitioner, Joseph Curcio, the secretary-treasurer of Local 269 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, one of the alleged 'phantom unions,' was subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury, and to produce the union's books and records. There were two subpoenas—a personal subpoena ad testificandum and a subpoena duces tecum addressed to him in his capacity as secretary-treasurer of Local 269. On several days he appeared before the grand jury but failed to produce the demanded books and records. He testified that he was the secretary-treasurer of Local 269; that the union had books and records; but that they were not then in his possession. He refused, on the ground of self-incrimination, to answer any questions pertaining to the whereabouts, or who had possession, of the books and records he had been ordered to produce.

The District Court, after a hearing in which petitioner attempted to justify his claim of privilege, directed petitioner to answer 15 questions pertaining to the where-

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abouts of the books and records.1 It ruled that petitioner's claim of privilege was improper because he had not made a sufficient showing that his answers might

Page 121

incriminate him. When petitioner persisted in his refusal to answer, the District Court summarily adjudged him guilty of criminal contempt, and sentenced him to six months' confinement unless he sooner purged himself by answering the questions. This conviction related solely to petitioner's failure to answer questions asked pursuant to the personal subpoena ad testificandum. He has not been charged with failing to produce the books and records demanded in the subpoena duces tecum.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. 2 Cir., 234 F.2d 470. It held that petitioner had failed to show that his answers to the 15 questions might incriminate him; that the privilege against self-incrimination did not attach to questions put to a custodian relating to the whereabouts of union books; and that petitioner had been accorded a fair hearing. We granted certiorari to determine whether petitioner's claim of privilege was properly denied. 352 U.S. 820, 77 S.Ct. 62, 1 L.Ed.2d 45.

In the courts below, the Government contended that petitioner had not made a sufficient showing that answering the 15 questions might tend to incriminate him. The Government no longer so contends. In its brief it now says, 'We make no claim that, if petitioner's personal privilege did apply to questions concerning the union records, he failed to make an adequate showing of possible incrimination.' There is substantial ground for the Government's concession. 2

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We turn, therefore, to the remaining issue—whether petitioner's personal privilege against self-incrimination attaches to questions relating to the whereabouts of the union books and records which he did not produce pursuant to subpoena.

It is settled that a corporation is not protected by the constitutional privilege against self-incrimination. A corporate officer may not withhold testimony or documents on the ground that his corporation would be incriminated. Hale v. Henkel, 201 U.S. 43, 26 S.Ct. 370, 50 L.Ed. 652. Nor may the custodian of corporate books or records withhold them on the ground that he personally might be incriminated by their production. Wilson v. United States, 221 U.S. 361, 31 S.Ct. 538, 55 L.Ed. 771; Essgee Co. v. United States, 262 U.S. 151, 43 S.Ct. 514, 67 L.Ed. 917. Even after the dissolution of a corporation and the transfer of its books to individual stockholders, the transferees may not invoke their privilege with respect to the former corporate records. Grant v. United States, 227 U.S. 74, 33 S.Ct. 190, 57 L.Ed. 423; Wheeler v. United States, 226 U.S. 478, 33 S.Ct. 158, 57 L.Ed. 309. The foregoing cases stand for the principle that the books and records of corporations cannot be insulated from reasonable demands of governmental authorities by a claim of personal privilege on the part of their custodian.

In United States v. White, 322 U.S. 694, 64 S.Ct. 1248, 88 L.Ed. 1542, this principle was applied to an unincorporated association, a labor union. Stating that the privilege against self-incrimination had the historic function of 'protecting only the natural individual from compulsory incrimination through his own testimony or personal records' (id., 322 U.S. at page 701, 64 S.Ct. at page 1252), the Court held that 'the papers and effects which

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the privilege protects must be the private property of the person claiming the privilege, or at least in his possession in a purely personal capacity' (id., 322 U.S. at page 699, 64 S.Ct. at page 1251).

'But individuals, when acting as representatives of a collective group, cannot be said to be exercising their personal rights and duties nor to be entitled to their purely personal privileges. Rather they assume the rights, duties and privileges of the artificial entity or association of which they are agents or officers and they are bound by its obligations. In their official capacity, therefore, they have no privilege against self-incrimination. And the official records and documents of the organization that are held by them in a representative rather than in a personal capacity cannot be the subject of the personal privilege against self-incrimination, even though production of the papers might tend to incriminate them personally.' Id., 322 U.S. at page 699, 64 S.Ct. at page 1251.

The Government now contends that the representative duty which required the production of union records in the White case requires the giving of oral testimony by the custodian in this case. From the fact that the custodian has no privilege with respect to the union books in his possession, the Government reasons that he also has no privilege with respect to questions seeking to ascertain the whereabouts of books and records which have been subpoenaed but not produced. In other words, when the custodian fails to produce the books, he must, according to the Government, explain or account under oath for their nonproduction, even though to do so may tend to incriminate him.

The Fifth Amendment suggests no such exception. It guarantees that 'No person * * * shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself * * *.' A custodian, by assuming the duties of his office, under-

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takes the obligation to produce the books of which he is custodian in response to a rightful exercise of the State's visitorial powers. But he cannot lawfully be compelled, in the absence of a grant of adequate immunity from prosecution, to condemn himself by his own oral testimony.

In the Wilson case, supra, which is the leading case for the proposition that corporate officers may not invoke their personal privilege against self-incrimination to prevent the production of corporate records, Mr. Justice Hughes, speaking for the Court, drew the...

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285 practice notes
  • Siry Inv., L.P. v. Farkhondehpour, B277750 (Consolidated with B279009
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 3, 2020
    ...therefore are testimonial ( Pa. v. Muniz (1990) 496 U.S. 582, 594, 110 S.Ct. 2638, 110 L.Ed.2d 528, quoting Curcio v. United States (1957) 354 U.S. 118, 128, 77 S.Ct. 1145, 1 L.Ed.2d 1225 ), the applicability of the privilege here turns on whether the discovery sought is "incriminating" and......
  • People v. Rucker, Cr. 20682
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • January 29, 1980
    ...is a physical form of evidence and not because it is used to prove an arguably physical fact. (See also Curcio v. United States (1957) 354 U.S. 118, 77 S.Ct. 1145, 1 L.Ed.2d 1225 (while the custodian of the records of a labor union may be compelled to produce the union's books, he may not b......
  • 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
    ...1237, 79 L.Ed.2d 552 (1984); Fisher v. United States, 425 U.S. 391, 410, 96 S.Ct. 1569, 48 L.Ed.2d 39 (1976); Curcio v. United States, 354 U.S. 118, 125, 77 S.Ct. 1145, 1 L.Ed.2d 1225 (1957). "[T]he act of production could constitute protected testimonial communication because it might enta......
  • U.S. v. Hubbell, No. 98-3080
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • January 26, 1999
    ...or contempt ..."); South Dakota v. Neville, 459 U.S. 553, 563, 103 S.Ct. 916, 74 L.Ed.2d 748 (1983) (same); Curcio v. United States, 354 U.S. 118, 128, 77 S.Ct. 1145, 1 L.Ed.2d 1225 (1957) (forcing custodian of union records who lacks possession to testify as to their whereabouts "requires ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
284 cases
  • Siry Inv., L.P. v. Farkhondehpour, B277750 (Consolidated with B279009
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 3, 2020
    ...therefore are testimonial ( Pa. v. Muniz (1990) 496 U.S. 582, 594, 110 S.Ct. 2638, 110 L.Ed.2d 528, quoting Curcio v. United States (1957) 354 U.S. 118, 128, 77 S.Ct. 1145, 1 L.Ed.2d 1225 ), the applicability of the privilege here turns on whether the discovery sought is "incriminating" and......
  • People v. Rucker, Cr. 20682
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • January 29, 1980
    ...is a physical form of evidence and not because it is used to prove an arguably physical fact. (See also Curcio v. United States (1957) 354 U.S. 118, 77 S.Ct. 1145, 1 L.Ed.2d 1225 (while the custodian of the records of a labor union may be compelled to produce the union's books, he may not b......
  • 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
    ...1237, 79 L.Ed.2d 552 (1984); Fisher v. United States, 425 U.S. 391, 410, 96 S.Ct. 1569, 48 L.Ed.2d 39 (1976); Curcio v. United States, 354 U.S. 118, 125, 77 S.Ct. 1145, 1 L.Ed.2d 1225 (1957). "[T]he act of production could constitute protected testimonial communication because it might enta......
  • U.S. v. Hubbell, No. 98-3080
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • January 26, 1999
    ...or contempt ..."); South Dakota v. Neville, 459 U.S. 553, 563, 103 S.Ct. 916, 74 L.Ed.2d 748 (1983) (same); Curcio v. United States, 354 U.S. 118, 128, 77 S.Ct. 1145, 1 L.Ed.2d 1225 (1957) (forcing custodian of union records who lacks possession to testify as to their whereabouts "requires ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
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