Boyd v. United States (116 U.S. 616)/Concurrence Miller

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United States Supreme Court

116 U.S. 616

Boyd  v.  United States

 Argued: February 1, 1886. ---


MILLER, J.

I concur in the judgment of the court, reversing that of the circuit court, and in so much of the opinion of this court as holds the fifth section of the act of 1874 void as applicable to the present case. I am of opinion that this is a criminal case within the meaning of that clause of the fifth amendment to the contitution of the United States which declares that no person 'shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.' And I am quite satisfied that the effect of the act of congress is to compel the party on whom the order of the court is served to be a witness against himself. The order of the court under the statute is in effect a subpoena duces tecum, and, though the penalty for the witness' failure to appear in court with the criminating papers is not fine and imprisonment, it is one which may be made more severe, namely, to have charges against him of a criminal nature, taken for confessed, and made the foundation of the judgment of the court. That this is within the protection which the constitution intended against compelling a person to be a witness against himself, is, I think, quite clear. But this being so, there is no reason why this court should assume that the action of the court below, in requiring a party to produce certain papers as evidence on the trial, authorizes an unreasonable search or seizure of the house, papers, or effects of that party. There is in fact no search and no seizure authorized by the statute. No order can be made by the court under it which requires or permits anything more than service of notice on a party to the suit. That there may be no mistake as to the effect of the statute and the power to be exercised under it, I give the section here verbatim:

'Sec. 5. That in all suits and proceedings other than criminal arising under any of the revenue laws of the United States, the attorney representing the government, whenever, in his belief, any business book, invoice, or paper, belonging to or under the control of the defendant or claimant, will tend to prove any allegation made by the United States, may make a written motion, particularly describing such book, invoice, or paper, and setting forth the allegation which he expects to prove; and thereupon the court in which suit or proceeding is pending may, at its discretion, issue a notice to the defendant or claimant to produce such book, invoice, or paper, in court, at a day and hour to be specified in said notice, which, together with a copy of said motion, shall be served formally on the defendants or claimant, by the United States marshal, by delivering to him a certified copy thereof, or otherwise serving the same as original notice of suit in the same court are served; and if the defendant or claimant shall fail or refuse to produce such book, invoice, or paper in obedience to such notice, the allegations stated in the said motion shall be taken as confessed, unless his failure or refusal to produce the same shall be explained to the satisfaction of the court. And if produced, the said attorney shall be permitted, under the direction of the court, to make examination at which examination the defendant or claimant, or his agent, may be present-of such entries in said book, invoice, or paper as relate to or tend to prove the allegation aforesaid, and may offer the same in evidence on behalf of the United States. But the owner of said books and papers, his agent or attorney, shall have, subject to the order of the court, the custody of them, except pending their examination in court as aforesaid.' 18 St. 187.

Nothing in the nature of a search is here hinted at. Nor is there any seizure, because the party is not required at any time to part with the custody of the papers. They are to be produced in court, and, when produced, the United States attorney is permitted, under the direction of the court, to make examination in presence of the claimant, and may offer in evidence such entries in the books, invoices, or papers as relate to the issue. The act is careful to say that 'the owner of said books and papers, his agent or attorney, shall have, subject to the order of the court, the custody of them, except pending their examination in court as aforesaid.'

The fourth amendment says: 'The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrant shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the person or thing to be seized.' The things here forbidden are two: search and seizure. And not all searches nor all seizures are forbidden, but only those that are unreasonable. Reasonable searches, therefore, may be allowed, and if the thing sought be found, it may be seized. But what search does this statute authorize? If the mere service of a notice to produce a paper to be used as evidence, which the party can obey or not as he chooses, is a search, then a change has taken place in the meaning of words, which has not come within my reading, and which I think was unknown at the time the constitution was made. The searches meant by the constitution were such as led to seizure when the search was successful. But the statute in this case uses language carefully framed to forbid any seizure under it, as I have already pointed out.

While the framers of the constitution had their attention drawn, no doubt, to the abuses of this power of searching private houses and seizing private papers, as practiced in England, it is obvious that they only intended to restrain the abuse, while they did not abolish the power. Hence it is only unreasonable searches and seizures that are forbidden, and the means of securing this protection was by abolishing searches under warrants, which were called general warrants, because they authorized searches in any place, for any thing.

This was forbidden, while searches founded on affidavits, and made under warrants which described the thing to be searched for, the person and place to be searched, are still permitted.

I cannot conceive how a statute aptly framed to require the production of evidence in a suit by mere service of notice on the party, who has that evidence in his possession, can be held to authorize an unreasonable search or seizure, when no seizure is authorized or permitted by the statute.

I am requested to say that the chief justice in this opinion.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).