Wilson v. United States
221 U.S. 361 (1911)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Wilson v. United States, 221 U.S. 361 (1911)

Wilson v. United States

No. 759, 760, 788

Argued March 2, 3, 1911

Decided April 15, 1911

221 U.S. 361


Hale v. Henkel, 201 U. S. 43, followed to effect that a witness properly subpoenaed cannot refuse to answer questions propounded by the grand jury on the ground that there is no cause or specific charge pending.

The ad testificandum clause is not essential to the validity of a subpoena duces tecum, and the production of papers by one having them under his control may be enforced independently of his testimony.

Where the subpoena duces tecum contains the usual ad testificandum clause, it is not necessary to have the person producing the papers sworn as a witness. The papers may be proved by others.

The right of one responding to a subpoena duces tecum to show why he need not produce does not depend on the ad testificandum clause, but is incidental to the requirement to produce.

Corporate existence implies amenability to legal powers, and a subpoena duces tecum may be directed to a corporation.

A corporation is under a duty to produce records, books, and papers in its possession when they may be properly required in the administration of justice.

Page 221 U. S. 362

A corporation is not relieved from responding to a subpoena duces tecum or from producing the documents required by reason of the provisions of §§ 877 and 829, Rev.Stat., or those of the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution.

A subpoena duces tecum which is suitably specific and properly limited in its scope, and calls for the production of documents which, as against their lawful owner to whom the writ is directed, the party procuring its issuance is entitled to have produced does not violate the unreasonable search and seizure provisions of the Fourth Amendment, and the constitutional privilege against testifying against himself cannot be raised for his personal benefit by an officer of the corporation having the documents in his possession.

A lawful command to a corporation is, in effect, a command to its officers, who may be punished for contempt for disobedience of its terms.

An officer of a corporation is protected by the self-incrimination provisions of the Fifth Amendment against the compulsory production of his private books and papers, but this privilege does not extend to books of the corporation in his possession.

An officer of a corporation cannot refuse to produce documents of a corporation on the ground that they would incriminate him simply because he himself wrote or signed them, and this even if indictments are pending against him.

Physical custody of incriminating documents does not protect the custodian against their compulsory production. The privilege which exists as to private papers cannot be maintained.

Under the visitatorial power of the State, and the authority of Congress over corporate activities within the domain subject to Congress, a corporation must submit its books and papers whenever properly required so to do, and cannot resist on the ground of self-incrimination, even if the inquiry may be to detect and prevent violations of law. Hale v. Henkel, 201 U. S. 43, 201 U. S. 74.

An officer of a corporation cannot withhold its books to save it, or, if he is implicated in its violation of law, to protect himself, from disclosures, although he may decline to utter on the witness stand any self-incriminating word.

An officer cannot withhold from a grand jury corporate documents in his possession because the inquiry was directed against the corporation itself.

Notwithstanding English views as to the extent of protection against self-incrimination the duties of corporations and officers thereof are to be determined by our laws.

Page 221 U. S. 363

221 U.S. Argument for Plaintiff in Error and Appellant.

The facts, which involve the validity of a subpoena duces tecum issued to a corporation, and the right of an officer thereof to refuse to produce the documents required by such subpoena on the ground that they tended to incriminate him, are stated in the opinion.

Page 221 U. S. 366

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