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Motions to Quash Grand Jury Federal Subpoenas

March 21, 2024

Motions to Quash Federal Grand Jury Subpoenas

When a person receives a federal grand jury subpoena, they have a legal duty to respond in some way. Their options are to either comply with the subpoena by providing the requested records or testimony, or to file a motion to quash the subpoena if they have valid grounds to challenge it. This article will explain what a motion to quash is, the grounds for quashing a federal grand jury subpoena, the process for filing the motion, and the potential outcomes.

What is a Motion to Quash?

A motion to quash is a formal request to the court to invalidate or modify a subpoena. Motions to quash can challenge a subpoena in whole or in part. For example, someone may argue that the entire subpoena should be quashed because it violates their constitutional rights. Or they may argue that only part of the subpoena – like a certain request for records – should be quashed because it is overly broad. According to Rule 17 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, a court may quash or modify a subpoena if compliance would be “unreasonable or oppressive.”

Grounds for Quashing a Federal Grand Jury Subpoena

There are several potential grounds that someone could use to file a motion to quash a federal grand jury subpoena, including:

  • The subpoena violates a constitutional right, like the right against self-incrimination or unreasonable search and seizure.
  • The subpoena is overly broad or seeks information that is irrelevant to the grand jury’s investigation.
  • Compliance with the subpoena would be unreasonably burdensome.
  • The subpoena lacks specificity about what records are being requested.
  • The subpoena was improperly served.
  • There is a privilege, like attorney-client privilege, that protects the information sought.

The person challenging the subpoena has the burden to show that compliance would be unreasonable, oppressive, or violate a privilege. Courts give fairly wide latitude to grand juries to subpoena information relevant to an investigation. So meeting this burden can be difficult in many cases.

Filing a Motion to Quash with the Court

A motion to quash a federal grand jury subpoena must be filed promptly with the court overseeing the grand jury investigation. This is usually the U.S. District Court in the district where the subpoena was issued. The motion should clearly state the grounds for quashing the subpoena and provide supporting facts and legal arguments.

It is important to follow all the procedural rules when filing the motion. For example, the person challenging the subpoena may need to notify the U.S. Attorney’s Office about the motion so they can respond. The court may also require a memorandum of points and authorities to explain the legal basis for quashing the subpoena.

In some cases, the person subpoenaed may be able to negotiate with the prosecutor to narrow the scope of the subpoena or withdraw it altogether, making a formal motion unnecessary. But if they are unable to reach an agreement, filing the motion is the only way to legally challenge the subpoena.

Outcomes of a Motion to Quash

After considering the motion, any response from the government, and oral arguments if necessary, the judge will decide whether to grant or deny the motion to quash. Some key potential outcomes include:

  • Grant the motion – The judge agrees with the arguments and quashes the subpoena in whole or in part.
  • Deny the motion – The judge rejects the arguments and upholds the subpoena as valid.
  • Modify the subpoena – The judge quashes part of the subpoena but leaves the remainder intact.
  • Impose conditions – The judge keeps the subpoena in place but adds conditions to address the concerns raised.

If the motion to quash is denied, the subpoena recipient typically must comply promptly or risk being held in contempt of court. On the other hand, if the motion is granted, the recipient is relieved of any obligation to comply with the quashed portions of the subpoena.

Appealing a judge’s decision on a motion to quash is very difficult, so the trial court’s ruling is usually the final word. However, recipients who lose their motion still have the right to object to the admission of any improperly obtained evidence in a later criminal prosecution.

Strategic Considerations

Because motions to quash grand jury subpoenas are rarely granted, some strategic factors come into play when deciding whether to file one. In some cases, it may be better to negotiate with the prosecutor rather than fighting the subpoena in court. Filing a motion can also antagonize the government and potentially draw more scrutiny to the recipient.

On the other hand, recipients who believe they have a strong case for quashing the subpoena may decide it is worth asserting their rights. The most successful motions often raise privilege issues or constitutional violations rather than mere breadth or relevance objections. Having an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer assist with the motion can also improve the chances it will be granted.

While every situation is unique, anyone who receives a federal grand jury subpoena should carefully consider whether they have valid grounds for challenging it. Filing a motion to quash may be an appropriate response in some cases but not in others. Consulting with legal counsel is highly recommended when making these strategic decisions.

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