The Waite Court (1874–88)

Criminal Justice

What landmark privacy decision involved both the Fourth and Fifth Amendments?

The Waite Court’s decision in Boyd v. United States (1886) established that forcing an individual to produce his or her personal papers against his or her will violates both the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. The case arose after customs officials sought to determine whether the head of E. A. Boyd & Sons imported plate glass without paying the requisite custom duties.

A federal prosecutor obtained a court order to force Boyd to produce his invoices showing the purchase of the plates of glass. This led to a judicial determination that Boyd had violated the customs law and must forfeit the goods. On appeal, it was argued that this compulsory production of business records violated both the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

The Waite Court unanimously ruled against the government, establishing a ruling that served as a key precedent for individual privacy. It is also the first case in which the U.S. Supreme Court spoke for any length about the Fourth Amendment.


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