American Perspectives on Self-Incrimination and The Compelled Production of Evidence

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The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that no person may be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself. The Boyd decision in 1886 recognised an intimate relation between the privilege against self-incrimination and the restrictions on search and seizure in the Fourth Amendment and created a virtually impenetrable barrier to government demands that a suspect or defendant be compelled to produce evidence against himself. However, since that time the Supreme Court has progressively restricted the scope of Fifth Amendment protection in relation to the compelled production of evidence. This has been achieved by requiring all citizens to appear before grand juries; by denying Fifth Amendment protection to entities; by holding that the compelled production of evidence does not breach the Fifth Amendment unless the very act of production is self-incriminatory; and by denying the privilege in relation to required records. The Supreme Court’s stance reflects a recognition of the complexity of contemporary law enforcement problems and may be seen as an attempt to balance the state’s interest in the state’s interest in the successful prosecution of crime against the citizen’s interest in being free from state intrusion. The effect of the Supreme Court’s reforms has been to broaden government authority to compel offenders to assist in their own prosecutions whilst limiting Fifth Amendment protection to incrimination through the accused’s own testimony or its equivalent.

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International Journal of Evidence & Proof