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LEFKOWITZ V. CUNNINGHAM, 431 U. S. 801 (1977)

U.S. Supreme Court

Lefkowitz v. Cunningham, 431 U.S. 801 (1977)

Lefkowitz v. Cunningham

No. 76-260

Argued February 28-March 1, 1977

Decided June 13, 1977

431 U.S. 801


A New York statute provides that, if an officer of a political party subpoenaed by a grand jury or other authorized tribunal to testify concerning the conduct of his office refuses to testify or to waive immunity against subsequent criminal prosecution, his term of office shall terminate and he shall be disqualified from holding any other party or public office for five years. Appellee, an attorney, was divested of his state political party offices pursuant to this statute when, in response to a subpoena, he appeared before a grand jury and refused to waive his constitutional immunity. He then brought suit in Federal District Court, which granted him declaratory and injunctive relief against enforcement of the statute on the ground that it violated his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Held: The statute violated appellee's right to be free of compelled self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 431 U. S. 804-809.

(a) Government cannot penalize assertion of the constitutional privilege against compelled self-incrimination by imposing sanctions to compel testimony that has not been immunized. Pp. 431 U. S. 804-806.

(b) The statute was coercive against appellee because it threatened him with loss of powerful offices and because the compelled forfeiture of those offices would diminish his general reputation in the community, would, as economic consequences, harm his professional standing as a practicing lawyer and bar him from holding any other party or public office for five years, and would impinge on his First Amendment right to participate in private, voluntary political associations. Pp. 431 U. S. 807-808.

(c) The State's overriding interest in preserving public confidence in the integrity of its political process is insufficient to justify forcing its citizens to incriminate themselves. P. 431 U. S. 808.

(d) The State's dilemma in being forced to choose between an accounting from, and a prosecution of, a party officer is created by its own transactional immunity law, whereas the more limited use immunity required by the Fifth Amendment would permit the State to compel

Page 431 U. S. 802

testimony without forfeiting the opportunity to prosecute the witness on the basis of evidence derived from other sources. Pp. 431 U. S. 808-809.

420 F.Supp. 1004, affirmed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined, and in all but Part (4) of which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 431 U. S. 809. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 431 U. S. 810. REHNQUIST, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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