Marchetti v. United States, 390 U.S. 39 (1968)

2012-07-29 11:15:19

May an individual refuse to purchase an occupational tax stamp for fear that the government’s knowledge of his employment would lead to his arrest? The Supreme Court said yes, overruling prior decisions in United States v. Kahriger, 345 U.S. 22 (1953), and Lewis v. United States, 348 U.S. 419 (1955), that stated that the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination does not prevent this.

James Marchetti was a bookmaker who made money by taking bets from individuals. Under federal law, he was required to register with Internal Revenue Service, indicating that he accepted wagers, and also to pay an annual occupational tax. He was indicted for failure to do either and he contended that because the registration and payment of the tax would be reported to other law enforcement agencies who might prosecute him for illegal bookmaking, the two federal laws constituted a violation of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Justice Harlan wrote for the majority that agreed with Marchetti. Harlan noted that in United States v. Kahriger and Lewis v. United States, the Court had upheld the requirement to register and purchase tax stamps for similar illegal activities. In those cases the Court noted that no violation of the Fifth Amendment had occurred because individuals were given the choice between whether one wishes to commence wagering activities at the cost of a constitutional privilege.

In Marchetti, the Court rejected this logic. Instead it argued that because it was clear that Congress intended information about registration and the payment of the occupational tax to be given to law enforcement officials, Marchetti had a real and substantial fear of prosecution and therefore it was appropriate for him to raise the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination as a defense. The Court did note, though, that if an individual did not face substantial hazards of prosecution, then these registration and tax laws would not be unconstitutional.


References and Further Reading

  • Garcia, Alfredo. The Fifth Amendment: A Comprehensive Approach. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Lewis v. United States, 348 U.S. 419 (1955)
  • United States v. Kahriger, 345 U.S. 22 (1953)

See also Miranda Warning