United States v. Helstoski
Annotate this Case
442 U.S. 477 (1979)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Helstoski, 442 U.S. 477 (1979)
United States v. Helstoski
Argued March 27, 1979
Decided June 18,1979
442 U.S. 477
During an investigation by several federal grand juries of reported political corruption, including allegations that aliens had paid money for the introduction of private bills in Congress to suspend the application of the immigration laws to allow the aliens to remain in the United States, respondent, then a Member of the House of Representatives, appeared voluntarily before the grand juries on 10 occasions. He testified as to his practices in introducing private immigration bills, voluntarily produced his files on numerous private bills, and provided copies of many such bills introduced on behalf of various aliens. Initially, respondent made no claim of privilege under the Fifth Amendment, but eventually invoked that privilege, as well as alluding to his privilege under the Speech or Debate Clause. Subsequently, respondent was indicted on charges of accepting money in return for being influenced in the performance of official acts, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 201. He moved in District Court to dismiss the indictment on the ground, inter alia, that it violated the Speech or Debate Clause. The District Court denied the motion, holding that the Clause did not require dismissal, but that the Government was precluded from introducing evidence of past legislative acts in any form. The Court of Appeals affirmed this evidentiary ruling, holding, contrary to the Government's arguments, that legislative acts could not be introduced to show motive, since otherwise the protection of the Speech or Debate Clause would be negated, and that respondent had not waived the protection of that Clause by testifying before the grand juries.
Held: Under the Speech or Debate Clause, evidence of a legislative act of a Member of Congress may not be introduced by the Government in a prosecution under 18 U.S.C. § 201. United States v. Brewster, 408 U. S. 501; United States v. Johnson, 383 U. S. 169. Pp. 442 U. S. 487-494.
(a) While the exclusion of evidence of past legislative acts undoubtedly will make prosecutions more difficult, nevertheless, the Speech or Debate Clause was designed to preclude prosecution of Members for legislative acts. References to legislative acts of a Member cannot be admitted without undermining the values protected by that Clause. Pp. 442 U. S. 488-489.
(b) As to what restrictions the Clause places on the admission of evidence, the concern is with whether there is evidence of a legislative act; the protection of the Clause extends only to an act that has already been performed. A promise to deliver a speech, to vote, or to solicit other votes is not "speech or debate" within the meaning of the Clause, nor is a promise to introduce a bill at some future date a legislative act. Pp. 442 U. S. 489-490.
(c) Respondent did not waive the protection of the Clause by testifying before the grand juries and voluntarily producing documentary evidence of legislative acts. Assuming, without deciding, that a Member of Congress may waive the Clause's protection against being prosecuted for a legislative act, such waiver could be found only after explicit and unequivocal renunciation of the protection. On this record, respondent's words and conduct did not constitute such a waiver; his exchanges with the attorneys for the United States indicated, at most, a willingness to waive the protection of the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 442 U. S. 490-492.
(d) Nor does 18 U.S.C. § 201 amount to a congressional waiver of the protection of the Speech or Debate Clause. Assuming, arguendo, that Congress could constitutionally waive the protection of the Clause for individual Members, such waiver could be shown only by an explicit and unequivocal legislative expression, and there is no evidence of such a waiver. Pp. 442 U. S. 492-493.
576 F. 2d 511, affirmed.
BURGER, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which STEWART, J., joined, post, p. 442 U. S. 494. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 442 U. S. 498. POWELL, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.