United States v. Dionisio, 410 U.S. 1 (1973)

2012-09-19 13:53:44

The government, seeking to identify people overheard on a court-authorized wiretap, issued a subpoena directing Dionisio to appear before the grand jury and give a voice exemplar. In United States v. Mara, 410 U.S. 19 (1973), a companion case decided the same day, a subpoena required production of a handwriting exemplar. Dionisio and Mara each refused, claiming the subpoena violated their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. The Supreme Court upheld the subpoenas, ruling that unless they complied, they could be held in contempt of court.

The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Court held that, unlike a case where a suspect is forcibly taken into custody without probable cause to obtain an exemplar, there is nothing ‘‘unreasonable’’ about being subpoenaed: except in rare situations, everyone is required to comply with a subpoena to testify or produce physical evidence. Moreover, as the Court held in Katz v United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967) the Fourth Amendment protects only ‘‘reasonable expectations of privacy’’; it does not objects or information that a person ‘‘knowingly exposes to the public.’’ A person’s voice and handwriting clearly fall into the latter, unprotected, category.

As to the Fifth Amendment, the Court reiterated its prior rulings in United States v Wade, 388 218 (1967), involving lineups, and in Schmerber v. United States, 384 U.S. 757 (1966), involving a blood sample taken from a drunk driver, that the privilege against compelled self-incrimination only bars compelling ‘‘communications’’ or ‘‘testimony,’’ not ‘‘physical characteristics.’’ Because a person’s voice and handwriting are physical characteristics, not ‘‘communications,’’ the Court held, the Fifth Amendment does not protect a suspect from having to provide exemplars to the government.


References and Further Reading

  • Etling, Sheryl B., United States v. Dionisio—Fourth Amendment and Grand Jury Investigations, UMKC Law Review 42 (1973–1974): 244.
  • The Exclusionary Rule: United States v. Dionisio, 410 U.S. 1 (1973), United States v. Mara, 410 U.S. 9 (1973), Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 64 (1973): 414.
  • Harvard Law Review November, 1973 The Supreme Court, 1972 Term 2. Applicability of Fourth Amendment to Grand Jury Subpoenas, Harvard Law Review 87 (1973): 204.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • United States v. Mara, 410 U.S. 19 (1973)
  • Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967)
  • United States v. Wade, 388 218 (1967)
  • Schmerber v. United States, 384 U.S. 757 (1966)

See also Privacy; Self-Incrimination (V): Historical Background