California v. Byers

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Court Documents
Concurring Opinion
Dissenting Opinions

United States Supreme Court

402 U.S. 424


 Argued: Dec. 8, 1970. --- Decided: May 17, 1971


Respondent demurred to a count of an indictment charging him with violating Cal.Vehicle Code § 20002(a)(1) by failing to stop and furnish his name and address after involvement in an automobile accident, resulting in damage to property, on the ground that compliance would have violated his privilege against self-incrimination. His demurrer was sustained by the California Supreme Court, which held that compliance confronted respondent with 'substantial hazards of self-incrimination,' but upheld the statute by inserting a use restriction on the information disclosed. That court concluded that it would be unfair to punish respondent since he could not reasonably have anticipated the use restriction. Held: The judgment is vacated and the case is remanded.

Byers v. Justice Court for the Ukiah Judicial Dist. of Mendocino County, 71 Cal.2d 1039, 80 Cal.Rptr. 553, 458 P.2d 465, vacated and remanded.

THE CHIEF JUSTICE, joined by Mr. Justice Stewart, Mr. Justice WHITE, and Mr. Justice BLACKMUN, concluded that:

1. Compliance with this essentially regulatory and noncriminal statute, where self-reporting is indispensable to its fulfillment, where the burden is on 'the public at large,' as distinguished from a 'highly selective group inherently suspect of criminal activities,' and where the possibility of incrimination is not substantial, does not infringe the privilege against self-incrimination. Pp. 427-431.

2. Even assuming that the statutory requirement of the essentially neutral act of disclosing name and address is incriminating in the traditional sense, it would be an extravagant extension of the privilege to hold that it is testimonial in the Fifth Amendment sense. Just as there is no constitutional right to refuse to file an income tax return, there is no constitutional right to flee the scene of an accident to avoid any possible legal involvement. Pp. 431-434.

Mr. Justice HARLAN concluded that the presence, from the individual's point of view, of a 'real' and not 'inaginary' risk of self-incrimination is not a sufficient predicate for extension of the privilege against self-incrimination to regulatory schemes of the character involved in this case. Considering the noncriminal governmental purpose of securing the information (to ensure financial responsibility for accidents), the necessity for self-reporting as a means of securing the information, and the limited nature of the required disclosures which leaves the 'accusatorial' burden upon the State, the purposes of the Fifth Amendment to not warrant a use restriction as a condition of enforcement of the statute. Pp. 434-458.

Louise H. Renne, San Francisco, Cal., for petitioner.

John W. Poulos, Ukiah, Cal., for respondent.

Mr. Chief Justice BURGER announced the judgment of the Court and an opinion in which Mr. Justice STEWART, Mr. Justice WHITE, and Mr. Justice BLACKMUN join.


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).