Doe v. United States

487 U. S. 201

June 22, 1988

The government suspected that ‘John Doe’s’ offshore bank accounts contained incriminating documents. Unfortunately for the government, the banks refused to turn over anything without Doe’s signed consent. The government prepared a broadly worded statement, which said that Doe granted consent for any offshore banks to turn over documents in their possession. Doe said that signing this would be testimonial self-incrimination banned by the Fifth Amendment.

The Supreme Court, with Blackmun writing, disagreed in a 8-1 ruling. The statement did not mention any specific banks, accounts, documents, or anything that could be considered testimonial. He was not vouching for the existence, relevance, or authenticity of anything – all of those judgments would be made by the banks and the government. In the end, it was no more compelled testimony than an order for a defendant to turn over a hair or blood sample.

Stevens, in dissent, disagreed. He thought it was more analogous to an order that a defendant “reveal the combination to his wall safe – by word or deed.” Stevens contended that any order requiring the defendant to use his mind to assist the prosecution could count as testimonial self-incrimination. As for me, this one’s a close call, and I’m not sure who I side with.

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