The Supreme Court ruled that the government has broad powers to issue grand jury subpoenas even without probable cause.
The court, in a unanimous decision Tuesday, reversed a ruling of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that had quashed the subpoena of business rec-ords involving two New York adult book stores selling their goods in Virginia.The high court, in an opinion written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, said grand juries are "not licensed to engage in arbitrary fishing expeditions," but ruled that their power is broader than the 4th Circuit had held in striking down the business record subpoenas.
In this case, a grand jury investigating the interstate transportation of obscene materials had issued the subpoenas. But the 4th Circuit, sitting in Richmond, Va., said a grand jury subpoena has the same responsibility as a trial subpoena to show probable cause before information can be demanded.
The Supreme Court, which in 1974 stipulated stringent requirements for a trial subpoena, disagreed.
"In short, the government cannot be required to justify the issuance of a grand jury subpoena by presenting evidence sufficient to establish probable cause because the very purpose of requesting the information is to ascertain whether probable cause exists," O'Connor wrote.
The court also let stand a decision that a 101-year-old dining club for male students at Princeton University must admit women.
The court refused to review a decision by New Jersey's highest court, which had found that the Tiger Inn is a public accommodation and therefore violated state anti-discrimination laws by refusing to allow females to become members.
In other action Tuesday, the court:
- Ordered the Florida courts to reconsider the death sentenced imposed on a convicted triple-murderer. In a 5-4 decision, it ruled the Florida Supreme Court failed to consider all mitigating circumstances when it upheld the death sentence of Robert Lacy Parker.
A jury had recommended a life sentence, but Parker's trial judge overrode the jury and sentenced him to death for one of the three murders he committed Feb. 7, 1982, in Duval County, Fla. A judge can overrule a jury in Florida, but only after considering mitigating circumstances.
- Let stand a decision overturning an Ohio murderer's death sentence because the victim's family was allowed to express their feelings to the jury before sentencing.