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SECTION 3. UNREASONABLE SEARCHES AND SEIZURES AND SELF
BROWN v. WALKER.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES. 1896.
Appeal from the Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
[The grand jury of the United States District Court having under investigation charges against a railway that it had granted discriminatory rates and rebates, the appellant Brown, who was an officer of the railway, was summoned as a witness, but declined to answer questions as to the pending accusations on the ground that "my answer would tend to accuse and incriminate myself." The District Court having committed him. for contempt, he petitioned the Circuit Court for a writ of habeas corpus. Upon hearing the writ was dismissed and the prisoner remanded to custody. 70 Fed. 46. He then appealed.] MR. JUSTICE BROWN delivered the opinion of the
This case involves an alleged incompatibility between that clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which declares that no person "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself," and the act of Congress of February 11, 1893, c. 83, 27 Stat. 443, which enacts that "no person shall be excused from attending and testifying or from producing books, papers, tariffs, contracts, agreements, and documents before the Interstate Commerce Commission or in obedience to the subpoena of the commission, . . on the ground or for the reason that the testimony or evidence, documentary or otherwise, required of him, may tend to criminate him or subject him to a penalty or forfeiture. But no person shall be prosecuted or subjected to any penalty or forfeiture for or on account of any transaction, matter, or thing concerning which he may testify, or produce evidence, documentary or otherwise, before said Commission, or in obedience to its subpoena or the subpoena of either of them, or in any such case or proceeding."
The act is supposed to have been passed in view of the opinion of this court in Counselman v. Hitchcock, 142 U. S. 547, to the effect that section 860 of the Revised Statutes, providing that
no evidence given by a witness shall be used against him, his property or estate, in any manner, in any court of the United States, in any criminal proceeding, did not afford that complete protection to the witness which the amendment was intended to guarantee. The gist of that decision is contained in the following extracts from the opinion of Mr. Justice Blatchford, (pp. 564, 585,) referring to section 860: "It could not, and would not, prevent the use of his testimony to search out other testimony to be used in evidence against him or his property, in a criminal proceeding in such court. It could not prevent the obtaining and the use of witnesses and evidence which should be attributable directly to the testimony he might give under compulsion, and on which he might be convicted, when otherwise, and if he had refused to answer, he could not possibly have been convicted." And again: "We are clearly of opinion that no statute which leaves the party or witness subject to prosecution, after he answers the criminating question put to him, can have the effect of supplanting the privilege conferred by the Constitution of the United States. Section 860 of the Revised Statutes does not supply a complete protection from all the perils against which the constitutional prohibition was designed to guard, and is not a full substitute for that prohibition. In view of the constitutional provision, a statutory enactment, to be valid, must afford absolute immunity against future prosecutions for the offence to which the question relates."
The inference from this language is that, if the statute does afford such immunity against future prosecution, the witness will be compellable to testify. . . To meet this construction of the constitutional provision, the act in question was passed, exempting the witness from any prosecution on account of any transaction to which he may testify. The case before us is whether this sufficiently satisfies the constitutional guaranty of protection.
The clause of the Constitution in question is obviously susceptible of two interpretations. If it be construed literally, as authorizing the witness to refuse to disclose any fact which might tend to incriminate, disgrace or expose him to unfavorable comments, then as he must necessarily to a large extent determine upon his own conscience and responsibility whether his answer to the proposed question will have that tendency the practical result would be, that no one could be compelled to testify to a material fact in a criminal case unless he chose
to do so, or unless it was entirely clear that the privilege was not set up in good faith. If, upon the other hand, the object of the provision be to secure the witness against a criminal prosecution, which might be aided directly or indirectly by his disclosure, then, if no such prosecution be possible-in other words, if his testimony operate as a complete pardon for the offence to which it relates a statute absolutely securing to him such immunity from prosecution would satisfy the demands of the clause in question.
The maxim nemo tenetur seipsum accusare had its origin in a protest against the inquisitorial and manifestly unjust methods of interrogating accused persons, which have long obtained in the continental system, and, until the expulsion of the Stuarts from the British throne in 1688, and the erection of additional barriers for the protection of the people against the exercise of arbitrary power, was not uncommon even in England. While the admissions or confessions of the prisoner, when voluntarily and freely made, have always ranked high in the scale of incriminating evidence, if an accused person be asked to explain his apparent connection with a crime under investigation, the ease with which the questions put to him may assume an inquisitorial character, the temptation to press the witness unduly, to browbeat him if he be timid or reluctant, to push him into a corner, and to entrap him into fatal contradictions, which is so painfully evident in many of the earlier state trials, notably in those of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, and Udal, the Puritan minister, made the system so odious as to give rise to a demand for its total abolition. The change in the English criminal procedure. in that particular seems to be founded upon no statute and no judicial opinion, but upon a general and silent acquiescence of the courts in a popular demand. But, however adopted, it has become firmly embedded in English, as well as in American jurisprudence. So deeply did the iniquities of the ancient system impress themselves upon the minds of the American colonists that the States, with one accord, made a denial of the right to question an accused person a part of their fundamental law, so that a maxim, which in England was a mere rule of evidence, became clothed in this country with the impregnability of a constitutional enactment.
Stringent as the general rule is, however, certain classes of cases have always been treated as not falling within the reason of the rule, and, therefore, constituting apparent exceptions.
When examined, these cases will all be found to be based upon the idea that, if the testimony sought cannot possibly be used as a basis for, or in aid of, a criminal prosecution against the witness, the rule ceases to apply, its object being to protect the witness himself and no one else-much less that it shall be made use of as a pretext for securing immunity to others. 1. Thus, if the witness himself elects to waive his privilege, as he may doubtless do, since the privilege is for his protection and not for that of other parties, and discloses his criminal connections, he is not permitted to stop, but must go on and make a full disclosure. So, under modern statutes permitting accused persons to take the stand in their own behalf, they may be subjected to cross-examination upon their statements.
2. For the same reason if a prosecution for a crime, concerning which the witness is interrogated, is barred by the statute of limitations, he is compellable to answer.
3. If the answer of the witness may have a tendency to disgrace him or bring him into disrepute, and the proposed evidence be material to the issue on trial, the great weight of authority is that he may be compelled to answer, although, if the answer can have no effect upon the case, except so far as to impair the credibility of the witness, he may fall back upon his privilege. But even in the latter case, if the answer of the witness will not directly show his infamy, but only tend to disgrace him, he is bound to answer. The extent to which the witness is compelled to answer such questions as do not fix upon him a criminal is within the control of the legislature.
4. It is almost a necessary corollary of the above propositions that, if the witness has already received a pardon, he cannot longer set up his privilege, since he stands with respect to such offence as if it had never been committed.
All of the cases above cited proceed upon the idea that the prohibition against his being compelled to testify against himself presupposes a legal detriment to the witness arising from the exposure. As the object of the first eight amendments to the Constitution was to incorporate into the fundamental law of the land certain principles of natural justice which had become permanently fixed in the jurisprudence of the mother country, the construction given to those principles by the Eng lish courts is cogent evidence of what they were designed to
secure and of the limitations that should be put upon them. This is but another application of the familiar rule that where one State adopts the laws of another, it is also presumed to adopt the known and settled construction of those laws by the courts of the State from which they are taken.
The act of Congress in question securing to witnesses immunity from prosecution is virtually an act of general amnesty, and belongs to a class of legislation which is not uncommon either in England, (2 Taylor, Evidence, § 1455, where a large number of similar acts are collated) or in this country. Although the Constitution vests in the President "power to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States, except in cases of impeachment," this power has never been held to take from Congress the power to pass acts of general amnesty, and is ordinarily exercised only in cases of individuals after conviction, although, as was said by this court in Ex parte Garland, 4 Wall. 333, 380, "it extends to every offence known to the law, and may be exercised at any time after its commission, either before legal proceedings are taken, or during their pendency, or after conviction and judgment.'
It is argued in this connection that, while the witness is granted immunity from prosecution by the Federal government, he does not obtain such immunity against prosecution in the state courts. We are unable to appreciate the force of this suggestion. It is true that the Constitution does not operate upon a witness testifying in the State courts, since we have held that the first eight amendments are limitations only upon the powers of Congress and the Federal courts, and are not applicable to the several States, except so far as the Fourteenth Amendment may have made them applicable.
There is no such restriction, however, upon the applicability of Federal statutes. The sixth article of the Constitution declares that "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding."
The act in question contains no suggestion that it is to be applied only to the Federal courts. It declares broadly that "no person shall be excused from attending and testifying