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Zicarelli v. The New Jersey State Commission of Investigation

Significance

Zicarelli v. The New Jersey State Commission of Investigation clarified the conditions under which a witness can be compelled to give testimony.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants a witness the privilege to refuse to answer questions on the grounds that they might incriminate him. In certain situations, however, courts or investigative bodies can force a witness to testify when they grant the witness immunity from prosecution. This case revolves around one such situation.

On 8 July 1969, the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation subpoenaed Joseph Arthur Zicarelli to appear and testify about organized crime, racketeering, and political corruption in the city of Long Branch. Zicarelli appeared before the commission on numerous occasions, several times invoking his privilege under the Fifth Amendment and refusing to answer the commission's questions. In response, the commission granted him immunity "from having such responsive answer given by him or such responsive evidence produced by him, or evidence derived therefrom used to expose him to criminal prosecution or penalty or to a forfeiture of his estate." In other words, the commission promised it would not use Zicarelli's testimony to prosecute him, not that it would not prosecute him entirely. It then ordered him to answer the questions. Still Zicarelli refused to answer. The commission then took its grievance to the Superior Court of Mercer County. At a hearing on the matter, Zicarelli challenged the order to testify on several grounds. Chiefly he argued that full immunity from prosecution for any offense to which he might testify was required for him to be compelled to answer questions. The Superior Court of Mercer County found Zicarelli to be in contempt and ordered him incarcerated until he testified as ordered. On appeal, the Supreme Court of New Jersey affirmed this judgment. Zicarelli then took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Zicarelli v. The New Jersey State Commission of Investigation - Significance, The Supreme Court Ruling, The Issue Of Immunity, Vagueness Of The Statute