Baltimore City Department of Social Services v. Bouknight/Dissent Marshall

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Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion

Justice MARSHALL, with whom Justice BRENNAN joins, dissenting.

Although the Court assumes that respondent's act of producing her child would be testimonial and could be incriminating, ante, at 555, it nonetheless concludes that she cannot invoke her privilege against self-incrimination and refuse to reveal her son's current location. Neither of the reasons the Court articulates to support its refusal to permit respondent to invoke her constitutional privilege justifies its decision. I therefore dissent.

* The Court correctly assumes, ante, at 555, that Bouknight's production of her son to the Maryland court would be testimonial because it would amount to an admission of Bouknight's physical control over her son. See Fisher v. United States, 425 U.S. 391, 410, 96 S.Ct. 1569, 1581, 48 L.Ed.2d 39 (1976) (acts of production are testimonial if they contain implicit statement of fact). Accord, United States v. Doe, 465 U.S. 605, 612-613, 104 S.Ct. 1237, 1242, 79 L.Ed.2d 552 (1984). The Court also assumes, ante, at 555, that Bouknight's act of production would be self-incriminating. I would not hesitate to hold explicitly that Bouknight's admission of possession or control presents a " 'real and appreciable' " threat of self-incrimination. Marchetti v. United States, 390 U.S. 39, 48, 88 S.Ct. 697, 702, 19 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968). Bouknight's ability to produce the child would conclusively establish her actual and present physical control over him, and thus might "prove a significant 'link in a chain' of evidence tending to establish [her] guilt." Ibid. (footnote omitted).

Indeed, the stakes for Bouknight are much greater than the Court suggests. Not only could she face criminal abuse and neglect charges for her alleged mistreatment of Maurice, but she could also be charged with causing his death. The State acknowledges that it suspects that Maurice is dead, and the police are investigating his case as a possible homicide. In these circumstances, the potentially incriminating aspects to Bouknight's act of production are undoubtedly significant.

Notwithstanding the real threat of self-incrimination, the Court holds that "Bouknight may not invoke the privilege to resist the production order because she has assumed custodial duties related to production and because production is required as part of a noncriminal regulatory regime." Ante, at 555-556. In characterizing Bouknight as Maurice's "custodian," and in describing the relevant Maryland juvenile statutes as part of a noncriminal regulatory regime, the Court relies on two distinct lines of Fifth Amendment precedent, neither of which applies to this litigation.

The Court's first line of reasoning turns on its view that Bouknight has agreed to exercise on behalf of the State certain custodial obligations with respect to her son, obligations that the Court analogizes to those of a custodian of the records of a collective entity. See ante, at 558-559. This characterization is baffling, both because it is contrary to the facts of this case and because this Court has never relied on such a characterization to override the privilege against self-incrimination except in the context of a claim of privilege by an agent of a collective entity. [1]

Jacqueline Bouknight is Maurice's mother; she is not, and in fact could not be, his "custodian" whose rights and duties are determined solely by the Maryland juvenile protection law. See Md.Cts. & Jud.Proc.Code Ann. § 3-801(j) (Supp.1989) (defining "custodian" as "person or agency to whom legal custody of a child has been given by order of the court, other than the child's parent or legal guardian"). Although Bouknight surrendered physical custody of her child during the pendency of the proceedings to determine whether Maurice was a "child in need of assistance" (CINA) within the meaning of the Maryland Code, § 3-801(e), Maurice's placement in shelter care was only temporary and did not extinguish her legal right to custody of her son. See § 3-801(r). When the CINA proceedings were settled, Bouknight regained physical custody of Maurice and entered into an agreement with the Baltimore City Department of Social Services (BCDSS). In that agreement, which was approved by the juvenile court, Bouknight promised, among other things, to "cooperate with BCDSS," App. 28, but she retained legal custody of Maurice.

A finding that a child is in need of assistance does not by itself divest a parent of legal or physical custody, nor does it transform such custody to something conferred by the State. See, e.g., In re Jertrude O., 56 Md.App. 83, 97-98, 466 A.2d 885, 893 (1983) (proving a child is a CINA differs significantly from proving that the parent's rights to legal and physical custody should be terminated). Thus, the parent of a CINA continues to exercise custody because she is the child's parent, not because the State has delegated that responsibility to her. Although the State has obligations "[t]o provide for the care, protection, and wholesome mental and physical development of children" who are in need of assistance, Md.Cts. & Jud.Proc.Code Ann. § 3-802(a)(1) (1984), these duties do not eliminate or override a parent's continuing legal obligations similarly to provide for her child.

In light of the statutory structure governing a parent's relationship to a CINA, Bouknight is not acting as a custodian in the traditional sense of that word because she is not acting on behalf of the State. In reality, she continues to exercise her parental duties, constrained by an agreement between her and the State. That agreement, which includes a stipulation that Maurice was a CINA, allows the State, in certain circumstances, to intercede in Bouknight's relationship with her child. It does not, however, confer custodial rights and obligations on Bouknight in the same way corporate law creates the custodial status of a corporate agent.

Moreover, the rationale for denying a corporate custodian Fifth Amendment protection for acts done in her representative capacity does not apply to this case. The rule for a custodian of corporate records rests on the well-established principle that a collective entity, unlike a natural person, has no Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. See Hale v. Henkel, 201 U.S. 43, 69-70, 26 S.Ct. 370, 376-377, 50 L.Ed. 652 (1906) (corporation has no privilege); United States v. White, 322 U.S. 694, 701, 64 S.Ct. 1248, 1252, 88 L.Ed. 1542 (1944) (labor union has no privilege). Because an artificial entity can act only through its agents, a custodian of such an entity's documents may not invoke her personal privilege to resist producing documents that may incriminate the entity, even if the documents may also incriminate the custodian. Wilson v. United States, 221 U.S. 361, 384-385, 31 S.Ct. 538, 545-546, 55 L.Ed. 771 (1911). As we explained in White:

"[I]ndividuals, when acting as representatives of a collective group, cannot be said to be exercising their personal rights and duties nor to be entitled to their purely personal privileges. Rather they assume the rights, duties and privileges of the artificial entity or association of which they are agents or officers and they are bound by its obligations. . . . And the official records and documents of the organization that are held by them in a representative rather than in a personal capacity cannot be the subject of the personal privilege against self-incrimination, even though production of the papers might tend to incriminate them personally." 322 U.S., at 699, 64 S.Ct., at 1251 (citations omitted; emphasis added).

Jacqueline Bouknight is not the agent for an artificial entity that possesses no Fifth Amendment privilege. Her role as Maurice's parent is very different from the role of a corporate custodian who is merely the instrumentality through whom the corporation acts. I am unwilling to extend the collective entity doctrine into a context where it denies individuals, acting in their personal rather than representative capacities, their constitutional privilege against self-incrimination.

The Court's decision rests as well on cases holding that "the ability to invoke the privilege may be greatly diminished when invocation would interfere with the effective operation of a generally applicable, civil regulatory requirement." Ante, at 557. The cases the Court cites have two common features: they concern civil regulatory systems not primarily intended to facilitate criminal investigations, and they target the general public. See California v. Byers, 402 U.S. 424, 430-431, 91 S.Ct. 1535, 1539, 29 L.Ed.2d 9 (1971) (determining that a "hit and run" statute that required a driver involved in an accident to stop and give certain information was primarily civil). In contrast, regulatory regimes that are directed at a " 'selective group inherently suspect of criminal activities,' " Marchetti, 390 U.S., at 57, 88 S.Ct., at 707 (quoting Albertson v. Subversive Activities Control Board, 382 U.S. 70, 79, 86 S.Ct. 194, 199, 15 L.Ed.2d 165 (1965)), do not result in a similar diminution of the Fifth Amendment privilege.

* Applying the first feature to this case, the Court describes Maryland's juvenile protection scheme as "a broadly directed, noncriminal regulatory regime governing children cared for pursuant to custodial orders." Ante, at 559. The Court concludes that Bouknight cannot resist an order necessary for the functioning of that system. The Court's characterization of Maryland's system is dubious and highlights the flaws inherent in the Court's formulation of the appropriate Fifth Amendment inquiry. Virtually any civil regulatory scheme could be characterized as essentially noncriminal by looking narrowly or, as in this case, solely to the avowed non-criminal purpose of the regulations. If one focuses instead on the practical effects, the same scheme could be seen as facilitating criminal investigations. The fact that the Court holds Maryland's juvenile statute to be essentially noncriminal, notwithstanding the overlapping purposes underlying that statute and Maryland's criminal child abuse statutes, proves that the Court's test will never be used to find a relationship between the civil scheme and law enforcement goals significant enough to implicate the Fifth Amendment.

The regulations embodied in the juvenile welfare statute are intimately related to the enforcement of state criminal statutes prohibiting child abuse, Md.Ann.Code, Art. 27, § 35A (1987). State criminal decisions suggest that information supporting criminal convictions is often obtained through civil proceedings and the subsequent protective oversight by BCDSS. See, e.g., Lee v. State, 62 Md.App. 341, 489 A.2d 87 (1985). See also 3 Code of Md.Regs. §§ and (1988) (requiring Social Services Administration to maintain a Child Abuse Central Registry and allowing law enforcement officials access to the Registry). In this respect, Maryland's juvenile protection system resembles the revenue system at issue in Marchetti, which required persons engaged in the business of accepting wagers to provide certain information about their activities to the Federal Government. Focusing on the effects of the regulatory scheme, the Court held that this revenue system was not the sort of neutral civil regulatory scheme that could trump the Fifth Amendment privilege. Even though the Government's "principal interest [was] evidently the collection of revenue," 390 U.S., at 57, 88 S.Ct., at 707, the information sought would increase the "likelihood that any past or present gambling offenses [would] be discovered and successfully prosecuted," id., at 52, 88 S.Ct., at 705.

In contrast to Marchetti, the Court here disregards the practical implications of the civil scheme and holds that the juvenile protection system does not " 'focu[s] almost exclusively on conduct which was criminal.' " Ante, at 560 (quoting Byers, supra, 402 U.S., at 454, 91 S.Ct., at 1551 (Harlan, J., concurring in judgment). See also Byers, supra, at 430, 91 S.Ct., at 1539 (plurality opinion) (determining statute at issue to be "essentially regulatory, not criminal"). I cannot agree with this approach. The State's goal of protecting children from abusive environments through its juvenile welfare system cannot be separated from criminal provisions that serve the same goal. When the conduct at which a civil statute aims-here, child abuse and neglect-is frequently the same conduct subject to criminal sanction, it strikes me as deeply problematic to dismiss the Fifth Amendment concerns by characterizing the civil scheme as "unrelated to criminal law enforcement or investigation," ante, at 561. A civil scheme that inevitably intersects with criminal sanctions may not be used to coerce, on pain of contempt, a potential criminal defendant to furnish evidence crucial to the success of her own prosecution.

I would apply a different analysis, one that is more faithful to the concerns underlying the Fifth Amendment. This approach would target respondent's particular claim of privilege, the precise nature of the testimony sought, and the likelihood of self-incrimination caused by this respondent's compliance. "To sustain the privilege, it need only be evident from the implications of the question, in the setting in which it is asked, that a responsive answer to the question or an explanation of why it cannot be answered might be dangerous because injurious disclosure could result." Hoffman v. United States, 341 U.S. 479, 486-487, 71 S.Ct. 814, 818-819, 95 L.Ed. 1118 (1951). Accord, Marchetti, supra, 390 U.S., at 48, 88 S.Ct., at 703; Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 11-12, 84 S.Ct. 1489, 1495-1496, 12 L.Ed.2d 653 (1964). This analysis unambiguously indicates that Bouknight's Fifth Amendment privilege must be respected to protect her from the serious risk of self-incrimination. See supra, at 563-564.

An individualized inquiry is preferable to the Court's analysis because it allows the privilege to turn on the concrete facts of a particular case, rather than on abstract characterizations concerning the nature of a regulatory scheme. Moreover, this particularized analysis would not undermine any appropriate goals of civil regulatory schemes that may intersect with criminal prohibitions. Instead, the ability of a State to provide immunity from criminal prosecution permits it to gather information necessary for civil regulation, while also preserving the integrity of the privilege against self-incrimination. The fact that the State throws a wide net in seeking information does not mean that it can demand from the few persons whose Fifth Amendment rights are implicated that they participate in their own criminal prosecutions. Rather, when the State demands testimony from its citizens, it should do so with an explicit grant of immunity.

The Court's approach includes a second element; it holds that a civil regulatory scheme cannot override Fifth Amendment protection unless it is targeted at the general public. Such an analysis would not be necessary under the particularized approach I advocate. Even under the Court's test, however, Bouknight's right against self-incrimination should not be diminished because Maryland's juvenile welfare scheme clearly is not generally applicable. A child is considered in need of assistance because "[h]e is mentally handicapped or is not receiving ordinary and proper care and attention, and . . . [h]is parents . . . are unable or unwilling to give proper care and attention to the child and his problems." Md.Cts. & Jud.Proc. Code Ann. § 3-801(e) (Supp.1989). The juvenile court has jurisdiction only over children who are alleged to be in need of assistance, not over all children in the State. See § 3-804(a). It thus has power to compel testimony only from those parents whose children are alleged to be CINA's. In other words, the regulatory scheme that the Court describes as "broadly directed," ante, at 559, is actually narrowly targeted at parents who through abuse or neglect deny their children the minimal reasonable level of care and attention. Not all such abuse or neglect rises to the level of criminal child abuse, but parents of children who have been so seriously neglected or abused as to warrant allegations that the children are in need of state assistance are clearly "a selective group inherently suspect of criminal activities." See supra, at 567.

In the end, neither line of precedents relied on by the Court justifies riding roughshod over Bouknight's constitutional privilege against self-incrimination. The Court cannot accurately characterize her as a "custodian" in the same sense as the Court has used that word in the past. Nor is she the State's "agent," whom the State may require to act on its behalf. Moreover, the regulatory scheme at issue here is closely intertwined with the criminal regime prohibiting child abuse and applies only to parents whose abuse or neglect is serious enough to warrant state intervention.

Although I am disturbed by the Court's willingness to apply inapposite precedent to deny Bouknight her constitutional right against self-incrimination, especially in light of the serious allegations of homicide that accompany this civil proceeding, I take some comfort in the Court's recognition that the State may be prohibited from using any testimony given by Bouknight in subsequent criminal proceedings. Ante, at 561 (leaving open the question of the "State's ability to use the testimonial aspects of Bouknight's act of production" in such criminal proceedings). [2] Because I am not content to deny Bouknight the constitutional protection required by the Fifth Amendment now in the hope that she will not be convicted later on the basis of her own testimony, I dissent.


^1  The Court claims that the principle espoused in the collective entity cases was "extend[ed] well beyond the corporate context" in Shapiro v. United States, 335 U.S. 1, 68 S.Ct. 1375, 92 L.Ed. 1787 (1948). Ante, at 558. Shapiro, however, did not rest on the existence of an agency relationship between a collective entity and the custodian of its records. Instead, the petitioner was denied the Fifth Amendment privilege because the records sought were kept as part of a generalized regulatory system that required all businesses, unincorporated as well as incorporated, to retain records of certain transactions. See 335 U.S., at 22-23, 27, 33, 68 S.Ct., at 1386-1387, 1389, 1392. Shapiro turned on the Court's view "that the privilege which exists as to private papers cannot be maintained in relation to 'records required by law to be kept in order that there may be suitable information of transactions which are the appropriate subjects of governmental regulation and the enforcement of restrictions validly established.' " Id., at 33, 68 S.Ct., at 1392 (quoting Davis v. United States, 328 U.S. 582, 589-590, 66 S.Ct. 1256, 1259-1260, 90 L.Ed. 1453 (1946)). See also Marchetti v. United States, 390 U.S. 39, 57, 88 S.Ct. 697, 707, 19 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968) (describing rationale in Shapiro ); ante, at 558 (emphasizing that Shapiro had custody of "documents in which the Government had a direct and particular regulatory interest " (emphasis added)). Thus, Shapiro is properly analyzed with the cases concerning testimony required as a part of a noncriminal regulatory regime, rather than with the cases concerning testimony compelled from custodians of collective entities' records.

^2  I note, with both exasperation and skepticism about the bona fide nature of the State's intentions, that the State may be able to grant Bouknight use immunity under a recently enacted immunity statute, even though it has thus far failed to do so. See 1989 Md.Laws, ch. 288 (amending § 9-123). Although the statute applies only to testimony "in a criminal prosecution or a proceeding before a grand jury of the State," Md.Cts. & Jud.Proc.Code Ann. § 9-123(b)(1) (Supp.1989), the State represented to this Court that "[a]s a matter of law, [granting limited use immunity for the testimonial aspects of Bouknight's compliance with the production order] would now be possible," Tr. of Oral Arg. 10. If such a grant of immunity has been possible since July 1989 and the State has refused to invoke it so that it can litigate Bouknight's claim of privilege, I have difficulty believing that the State is sincere in its protestations of concern for Maurice's well-being.

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).