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UNITED STATES v. HELSTOSKI (1979) 442 U.S. 477


The Supreme Court grated certiorari to resolve questions concerning the restrictions the Speech or Debate Clause places on the admissibility of evidence at a trial on charges that Henry Helstoski, a former Member of the House had accepted bribes for introducing certain bills in the House.

 Helstoski appeared before a grand jury ten times. In the first several appearances he voluntarily answered questions and turned over documents and promised to turn over other documents. On his first appearance he stated, “As I indicated, I come with no request for immunity and you can be assured there won't be any plea of the Fifth Amendment under any circumstances.” Helstoski testified as to his practices in introducing private immigration bills, and he produced his files on numerous private bills. Included in the files were correspondence with a former legislative aide and with individuals for whom bills were introduced. He also provided copies of 169 bills introduced on behalf of various aliens.

 But on his forth appearance he objected the burden of providing all the requested information and said that there "some serious Constitutional questions." Then on the seventh appearance he asserted a general invocation of rights under the Constitution and specifically listed the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments. On his ninth appearance before a grand jury Helstoski asserted his privilege under the Speech or Debate Clause. At his 10th and final appearance before a grand jury, Helstoski invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege. But he also referred repeatedly to "other constitutional privileges which prevail." Nevertheless, he continued to promise to produce campaign and personal financial records as requested.

 A grand jury returned a multiple-count indictment charging Helstoski and others with various criminal acts. Helstoski moved to dismiss the indictment, contending that the grand jury process had been abused and that the indictment violated the Speech or Debate Clause. The District Court denied the motion, holding that the Clause did not require dismissal, but that the Government was precluded from introducing evidence of past legislative acts in any form. The Court of Appeals affirmed this evidentiary ruling, holding, contrary to the Government's arguments, that legislative acts could not be introduced to show motive, since otherwise the protection of the Speech or Debate Clause would be negated, and that respondent had not waived the protection of that Clause by testifying before the grand juries.


Can a member of Congress’ legislative acts be admitted into evidence at a criminal trail without undermining the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution.


Under the Speech or Debate Clause, evidence of a legislative act of a Member of Congress may not be introduced by the Government in a prosecution under 18 U.S.C. § 201. United States v. Brewster, 408 U. S. 501; United States v. Johnson, 383 U. S. 169. Pp. 442 U. S. 487-494. A promise to delivery a speech, a vote or to solicit other votes at some future date is do speech or debate.


The purpose the Framers including the Speech and Debate Clause was to protect the separation of powers of the federal government. While excluding evidence of past legislative acts will undoubtedly make prosecution of corrupt politicians more difficult, if there were no exclusion, the executive branch of government could prosecute members of the legislative branch for political purposes.


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