Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fisher v. United States case brief

Fisher v. United States case brief summary
425 U.S. 391 (1976)

Certiorari was granted to cases from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth and Third Circuits to resolve a conflict created by opposing judgments regarding whether a summons directing an attorney to produce documents delivered to the attorney by a client for purpose of getting legal advice was enforceable over claims that the documents were immune from summons in the hands of the client under the Fifth Amendment.

In two separate cases, following notice of investigation of possible civil or criminal liability under federal tax laws, the clients obtained documents relating to the preparation of their tax returns by their accountants. The clients transferred the documents to their lawyers. The Internal Revenue Service served summonses on the attorneys for production of the documents. The attorneys contended that enforcement of the summonses would involve compulsory self-incrimination of the clients in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The summonses were enforced by the district court.

  • The Third Circuit upheld the order, but the Fifth Circuit reversed the order. 
  • The court stated that the Fifth Amendment was limited to prohibiting the use of physical or moral compulsion exerted on the person asserting the privilege. 
  • The clients' privilege under Fifth Amendment was not violated by the enforcement of the summonses because enforcement against a client's lawyer could not compel the client to do anything, particularly not to be a witness against himself. 
  • The documents were not the clients' private papers. 
  • The judgment of the Third Circuit was affirmed. 
  • The judgment of the Fifth Circuit was reversed.

The court affirmed the judgment of the Third Circuit and reversed the judgment of the Fifth Circuit. The accountant's documents at issue were not privileged either in the hands of the lawyers or of the clients since papers demanded were not clients' private papers; production of the documents would involve no incriminating testimony within the protection of the Fifth Amendment.

Recommended Supplements for Criminal Procedure Criminal Procedure: Examples & Explanations, Sixth Edition
Emanuel Law Outline: Criminal Procedure

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