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Legal Case Analysis

by Johnny Ringo about a year ago in investigation

Originally written September 3rd, 2016.


This analysis is a legal analysis of four court cases, two having to do with the allowing or disallowing the handling of forensic evidence, and two allowing or disallowing the handling of testimonial evidence. The purpose of this analysis is to give the facts of these cases, describe the rulings, the courts’ rationalizations for these rulings, and how these cases relate to criminal investigations. All of these cases are related in some way to the Fourth and/or Fifth Amendments, and these cases have dealt with the rights and freedoms of Americans. The intent of this analysis is to show an understanding of how varying court cases have affected the laws pertaining to criminal investigations, and how an investigation can be undertaken in a legal manner, so as to not have collected evidence thrown out, and to not violate the rights of the accused.

United States v. Hubbell, 530 US 27 — Supreme Court 2000

Argued February 22, 2000 and decided upon June 5, 2000, United States v. Hubbell was a Supreme Court case related to the famous Whitewater investigations. Webster Hubbell, who had previously been indicted on charges relating to tax, mail, and wire fraud, was prosecuted by an Independent Counsel seeking to prove that Hubbell had refused to cooperate in the Whitewater investigation, after promising to do so.

While Hubbell was in jail for his charges on October of 1996, the Counsel served him with a “subpoena duces tecum”, ordering that he provide 11 categories of papers and records pursuant to these investigations. In November 1996, Hubbell appeared in court, refusing to state whether he was in possession of aforementioned documentation, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. After the prosecution produced an order according to 18 U.S.C. § 6003(a), promising Hubbell immunity from prosecution, Hubbell produced 13,120 documents, which were used as evidence against him in his second indictment.

A United States District Court threw out Hubbell’s second indictment, with a Court of Appeals upholding that ruling. The Supreme Court then agreed to hear the case. With Chief Justice William Rehnquist presiding, Supreme Court Justice Stevens, joined by O’Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Breyer, all voted in favor of Hubbell. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote his own separate concurrence, deciding that the Fifth Amendment protected against, “compelled production not just of incriminating testimony, but of any incriminating evidence.” Justice Scalia concurred with Justice Thomas’ concurrence, with only Chief Justice Rehnquist dissenting against the decision (United States v Hubbell, 2000).

The rationalization for the Supreme Court’s ruling is that the Fifth Amendment protects the accused from self-incrimination, applying to testimony made under oath, but that this case amended the interpretation to apply to documents as well. The accused is under no obligation to admit to the existence of documents that contain self-incriminating evidence, especially if the government cannot accurately describe them. Furthermore, if the documents are produced under promise of immunity, prosecution cannot then use those documents in order to prosecute the accused who produced them under promise of immunity from prosecute them.

The laws affecting criminal investigation in this case are both the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which states that an accused has the right to refuse to produce documents or make statements which would have the effect of incriminating oneself. Title 18 USC section 6003 (a) states that: “…upon the request of the United States attorney for such district, an order requiring such individual to give testimony or provide other information which he refuses to give or provide on the basis of his privilege against self-incrimination, such order to become effective as provided in section 6002 of this title.” (18 U.S. Code § 6003).

Based upon an understanding of these, a criminal investigator must conduct an investigation in such a way that the accused is not forced to incriminate oneself, as doing so would constitute a violation of the accused Fifth Amendment rights, thus causing the case, or at the very least the evidence coerced under duress, to be thrown out. The second indictment of Hubbell in November of 1996 also shows that negative repercussions can occur if an accused is promised legal immunity in exchange for cooperation with prosecution, and it is not granted. At that point, the accused would become a witness for the prosecution, and to deny this legally granted immunity would not only be an abuse of power, and a violation of the rights of the witness, but also a violation of a binding oral agreement between state/federal prosecutors, and the witness. Therefore, a criminal investigator cannot make empty promises in a legally binding way, as this can be considered a criminal act in and of itself.

Abel v. United States, 362 US 217 — Supreme Court 1960

Argued November 9, 1959 and decided upon March 28, 1960, Abel v. United States was a Supreme Court case, wherein the defendant, Rudolph Abel, was accused of being a Soviet spy during the Cold War, and of being inside of the United States illegally. The evidence that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) obtained was given to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), who arrested Abel and tried to “flip” him as a double agent, to spy on Soviet Russia. When Abel refused, the INS threatened deportation in an effort to coerce Abel. When Abel refused again, the INS searched the room, seized evidence, and then FBI agents entered, who obtained further evidence of espionage without a warrant. Evidence collected by both agencies were used against Abel, where he was tried for espionage and sentenced to 30 years.

The Supreme Court became involved when lawyer James Donovan argued that the evidence obtained was done so in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. The prosecution argued that as a citizen of Soviet Russia, Abel was not legally granted constitutional rights as an American. The initial hearing was not able to come to a decision on whether the search warrant obtained by the INS, of lower standards than a similar warrant from the FBI, was sufficient in order to search the room and seize the evidence; and whether the evidence of espionage, obtained separately to the purpose of the INS warrant (because the INS was merely focused on deporting Abel, it was the FBI who was investigating him for espionage), was obtained in violation of the Constitution. A second Supreme Court hearing on the case was opened, focusing on whether the INS warrant was valid, whether the warrant legally empowered the arrest, whether the warrant legally empowered the seizure, and whether the evidence obtained from the seizure was done in accordance with the Constitution.

After this second hearing the Supreme Court, led by then Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court reached a split decision of 5–4 against Abel. The rationalization for their decision was written by Frankfurter, joined by Clark, Harlan, Whittaker and Stewart, and stated that the FBI/INS cooperation was “in good faith”, asserting that the arrest, searches, seizure, and prosecution were all valid. The majority opinion also noted that “…federal government must not be permitted to circumvent the Fourth Amendment by invoking an administrative procedure…” (Abel v. United States, 1960). Two dissenting opinions were written separately, one written by Douglas and joined by Black, and a second by Brennan and joined by Warren, Black, and Douglas. Both dissenting opinions focused on the fact that while the INS obtained a search warrant to enter into the hotel room to detain Abel in the hopes of deporting him, that warrant did not empower INS to search for or seize evidence not related to their purposes for arrest, and that if the FBI had sought to arrest Abel for espionage, that the FBI needed its own warrant, which they did not have.

This case has a very important lesson to be learned for criminal investigators, especially as it pertains to how to legally and constitutionally conduct a proper arrest, search, and seizure. It also brings up points regarding the cooperation of multiple law enforcement agencies pursuing an arrest. When multiple agencies are working together to arrest a suspect, all agencies involved must obtain warrants to that effect. Furthermore, with a lawful warrant, a criminal investigator can only search where the warrant allows, and only searching for the kinds of evidence described in the warrant, as evidence outside of the scope of the warrant is obtained illegally and unconstitutionally.

For example, if a homicide detective was searching an apartment for evidence pertaining to a murder, and they find child pornography on the suspect’s computer, that evidence while still illegal is still not related (as far as they know) to their investigation. More to the point, if it is not covered under the scope of the warrant then the detective cannot legally obtain it, lest the evidence obtained or possibly even the entire case be thrown out for procedural misconduct. They would either have to ask a judge for the warrant to be amended to include that evidence, get a separate warrant for that evidence, or possibly contact another agency whose purview is investigating child pornography, so that those agents could obtain a warrant and collect the evidence.

Barefoot v. Estelle, 463 US 880 — Supreme Court 1983

Argued April 26, 1983 and decided upon July 6, 1983, this case focused on the question of whether hired psychiatrists are qualified to make future predictions about the possible dangerousness of a defendant, and whether or not the defendant would constitute a “continuing threat to society”. Barefoot v. Estelle (1983) is related to a previous court case, Estelle v. Smith (1981), which in itself was related to the famous Miranda v. Arizona (1966); a 14th Amendment case which established the procedure of an arrested suspect to be notified of their legal rights. In Estelle v. Smith (1981), the Supreme Court gave a previous ruling on the competency of a defendant to stand trial, regarding that defendant’s “future dangerousness”.

Estelle v. Smith (1981) ended with the Supreme Court deciding that Fifth Amendment rights protecting against self-incrimination apply to a psychiatric pre-trial evaluation, if such an evaluation was not explained to the defendant that such could later be used against them in court. In other words, a defendant cannot be subject to psychiatric evaluation for sentencing only, as such violates the defendant’s Fifth Amendment Right against self-incrimination, as well as their Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Estelle v. Smith (1981) also determined that Miranda Rights must be given to the accused before any pre-trial psychiatric examination.

In Barefoot v. Estelle (1983), the defendant Thomas Barefoot, was convicted of murdering a police officer. In this case, the particular deliberation was a death penalty hearing, after the conviction. In order to sentence Barefoot to the death penalty, the Texas court required a consideration of “future dangerousness”. Two psychiatrists who had never examined Barefoot nor asked to do so, answered hypothetical questions and determined that Barefoot did pose a “continuing threat”. The court issued the death penalty, ignoring the defense’s arguments that such assumptions cannot be made with a reasonable certainty. Several appeals, requests for a stay of execution, and writs of certiorari and habeas corpus were denied on the state level, until the Supreme Court responded with certiorari. There was also no mention of Barefoot being given his Miranda Rights, as per Estelle v. Smith (1981).

Led by then Chief Justice Warren Burger, the Supreme Court upheld the denial of the stay of execution and the Texas appellate court ruling, with White, Burger, Powell, Rehnquist, and O’Connor all in the majority, Stevens writing a separate concurrence, and two separate dissents, one written by Marshall and Brennan, and a second written by Blackmun, Brennan, and Marshall. The decision of Barefoot v. Estelle (1983) is notable for being in direct contradiction with Estelle v. Smith (1981). The rationalization for their ruling, counter to the findings of the American Psychiatric Association, is that an expert witness is capable of delivering a diagnosis of the mental state of the accused, without needing to examine the accused personally, and that the authority of that position enables a psychiatrist to predict future violent behavior based upon generalized questions.

The effect that this case has had on criminal investigations is that courts do accept the notion of “future dangerousness”, even in absence of empirical data regarding the accuracy of these assessments. This shows that the court does rely upon the authoritative position of key expert witnesses, such as psychiatrists. Therefore, if a criminal investigator has a suspect of questionable mental health, always bring in an expert witness to assess the suspect’s state of mind, and the court will probably trust the opinion of the expert. However, noting that this case is 33 years old, it is possible that other cases have overturned the ruling of Barefoot v. Estelle (1983).

United States v. Wade, 388 US 218 — Supreme Court 1967

Argued February 16, 1967 and decided upon June 12, 1967, United States v. Wade (1967) was a Supreme Court case centered on the Sixth Amendment. On September 21, 1964, a bank robbery occurred in Eustace, Texas. Billy Joe Wade was indicted for the crime on March 23, 1965, along with two other suspects. Wade was arrested on April 2, 1965, with counsel appointed on the 26th of that month. An FBI agent arranged a county courthouse lineup two weeks later, wherein two eyewitnesses to the robbery, bank employees, identified Wade as the robber. Wade’s counsel was not present. During trial, the same bank employees identified Wade again. The defense argued that the lineup was in violation of the defendant’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. The motion was denied, and Wade was convicted. A fifth circuit court later overturned that ruling, causing the Supreme Court to issue a writ of certiorari.

The Supreme Court, led again by Chief Justice Earl Warren, with the majority of Brennan, Warren, Douglas, Clark, and Fortas, with partial concurrences and partial dissents voiced by Black, White, Harlan, Stewart, Fortas, Warren, and Douglas, ruled against Wade. Justice William J. Brennan Jr. determined that the lineup did not violate Wade’s Fifth Amendment rights. This was partially concurred by Justice William O. Douglas and the Chief Justice, but is not considered part of the majority decision.

The justification for this decision was that despite Sixth Amendment violations, the identification was still valid, and in so doing vacated the decision of the Fifth Circuit court in favor of the lower decision. The majority decision did state that a Sixth Amendment violation could still occur even if the Fifth Amendment rights of the accused were not violated. The majority also stated that counsel must be present during a lineup, in contradiction to the government’s claim that it is part of preliminary police procedure and does not require counsel to be present. The Court ruled that defense counsel being present during lineups does not hinder prosecution, and would actually ensure that evidence was collected correctly and would not be dismissed as tainted, stating that, “…future regulation of pretrial stages with the adoption of police codes and other safeguards of fairness might render a stage not critical and vitiate the constitutional need for counsel.” (United States v. Wade, 1967).

This case has implications for criminal investigation. The first is that the arresting officer must have defense counsel present during preliminary arrest procedures, so as to make sure that (1) the suspect’s rights are maintained, (2) that the suspect is not abused, and (3) that obtained evidence is done so in accordance with the law, so as to be admissible in court. Also, this case shows that eyewitness testimony has been a staple of court proceedings and law enforcement procedure for several decades, and it has only in recent years begun to be questioned as to its efficacy.


Abel, alias Mark, alias Collins, alias Goldfus v. United States (1960), 362 U.S. 217. Retrieved from

Estelle, Corrections Director v. Ernest Benjamin Smith (1981), 451 U.S. 454 101 S. Ct. 1866; 68 L. Ed. 2d 359; 1981 U.S. LEXIS 95; 49 U.S.L.W. 4490. Retrieved from

Miranda v. State of Arizona; Westover v. United States; Vignera v. State of New York; State of California v. Stewart (1966), 384 U.S. 436 86 S. Ct. 1602; 16 L. Ed. 2d 694; 1966 U.S. LEXIS 2817; 10 A.L.R.3d 974

Thomas A. Barefoot, Petitioner v. W. J. Estelle, Jr., Director, Texas Department of Corrections, Respondent, (1983). 103 S. Ct. 3383; 77 L. Ed. 2d 1090; 1983 U.S. LEXIS 110; 51 U.S.L.W. 5189; 13 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. (Callaghan) 449. Retrieved from

Title 18, U.S. Code § 6003. Retrieved from

United States Constitution, Fifth Amendment. Retrieved from

United States Constitution, Fourteenth Amendment. Retrieved from

United States Constitution, Fourth Amendment. Retrieved from

United States Constitution, Sixth Amendment. Retrieved from

United States of America v. Webster Hubbell (2000), 530 U.S. 27, 120 S. Ct. 2037; 147 L. Ed. 2d 24. Retrieved from

United States v. Billy Joe Wade (1967), 388 U.S. 218 87 S. Ct. 1926; 18 L.Ed.2d 1149. Retrieved from


Johnny Ringo

Disabled, bisexual American socialist and political activist. Student of politics, aspiring journalist, and academic. Bachelor’s of Science in Criminal Justice.

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