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United States v. Mara


A grand jury twice subpoenaed the defendant to appear and provide handwriting and printing exemplars for comparison with documents already in the grand jury’s possession. The defendant refused, asserting that requiring him to produce the exemplars would violate his Fourth Amendment protections. Additionally, because he had not seen the documents in the grand jury’s possession, the defendant alleged that the government might actually be seeking “testimonial” communications (i.e., the contents of the handwriting exemplars, as opposed to the physical characteristics of his writing) in violation of his Fifth Amendment rights.


Whether compelling a defendant to provide handwriting exemplars violates the defendant’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination?


No. Compelling a defendant to provide handwriting exemplars does not require the defendant to make a communicative assertion.


The Supreme Court emphasized that the Fifth Amendment protection against selfincrimination did not protect the production of handwriting exemplars. “If the Government should seek more than the physical characteristics of the witness’ handwriting – if, for example, it should seek to obtain written answers to incriminating questions or a signature on an incriminating statement – then, of course, the witness could assert his Fifth Amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination.” Here, the grand jury was not concerned with the contents of the writings, but rather with the physical characteristics of the individual writer.


410 U.S. 19, 93 S. Ct. 774 (1973)

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