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Boyd v. United States


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116 U.S. 616 (1886), argued 11, 14 Dec. 1885, decided 1 Feb. 1886 by vote of 9 to 0; Bradley for the Court, Miller concurring. Boyd was the first decision of the Supreme Court to give extensive consideration to the relationship between the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Although later opinions have restricted its expansive interpretation of the two amendments, Boyd remains a landmark in the development of protections for the right to privacy.

The case concerned an allegation that E. A. Boyd & Sons had imported plate glass without paying the duty required by the 1874 customs act. As authorized by the act, the United States attorney obtained a court order that the Boyds produce their invoices for the glass. The case was a civil proceeding, involving no criminal charges. The Boyds contended that the compulsory production of records violated their rights under the Fourth Amendment prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures and the Fifth Amendment protecting freedom from compulsory self-incrimination.

The entire Court upheld the Boyds’ arguments, with the exception of two justices who declined to accept the Fourth Amendment argument. Justice Joseph P. Bradley, writing for the Court, relied on over two centuries of English and American legal history to support his conclusion that the two amendments protected the privacies of individual life from governmental intrusion. He rejected arguments that the amendments applied only in criminal proceedings and when there had been a physical invasion of property. Accordingly, he concluded that a section of the customs statute was unconstitutional because it authorized the compulsory production of records. Bradley also anticipated the exclusionary rule by holding that the admission of the invoices into evidence was unconstitutional.

Walter F. Pratt, Jr.

Subjects: Law.


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