Law School Site - Case Brief
UNITED STATES v. HELSTOSKI (1979)
442 U.S. 477
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.
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.
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 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
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