United States v. Washington, 431 U.S. 181 (1977)

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Respondent was subpoenaed to appear as a witness before a grand jury investigating the theft of a motorcycle. Before testifying, the respondent was told among other things of his right to remain silent and his right to counsel. He was not, however, told that he might be a target of the investigation. Respondent’s testimony was highly self-incriminating. On the basis of that testimony, he was indicted for the theft of the motorcycle. At trial, the court agreed with the respondent’s efforts to suppress his grand jury testimony and quash the indictment. The Court of Appeals affirmed on the grounds that the prosecutor should have advised the respondent that he was a potential target of the grand jury investigation and that he should have been informed of his rights before being sworn in as a witness.

The Supreme Court reversed, holding that his grand jury testimony could be properly used against him in a later trial. Under the Court’s analysis, knowing beforehand whether or not you are a potential target of a grand jury investigation ‘‘neither enlarges nor diminishes’’ the constitutional protections of the Fifth Amendment against compulsory self-incrimination. The Court went on to explain that in this case, the warnings that the respondent received before his testimony were enough to dispel ‘‘any possible compulsion to self-incrimination.’’ The fact that the respondent voluntarily revealed the information does not allow him the advantages of the Fifth Amendment. The Court, however, did not say whether the warnings were constitutionally required.


References and Further Reading

  • Israel, Jerold H., and Wayne R. LaFave. Criminal Procedure in a Nutshell. St. Paul, MN: West, 2001.

See also Coerced Confessions/Police Interrogations; Miranda Warning; Self-Incrimination (V): Historical Background