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Future of Congressional Use Immunity After United States v. North

NCJ Number
American Criminal Law Review Volume: 30 Issue: 2 Dated: (Winter 1993) Pages: 417-439
M Gilbert
Date Published
23 pages
The two rulings of U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in United States v. North and United States v. Poindexter, in which the plaintiffs' convictions for their alleged roles in the Iran-Contra affair were overturned, will affect the future of congressional use immunity.
Prior to the North ruling, it was thought that the government could pursue criminal prosecutions against an individual despite a grant by Congress of immunity in return for testimony. However, these two decisions have highlighted the conflict between the congressional interest in discovering the truth about national security matters through legislative investigation and the executive branch's interest in enforcing the law. Congress may now be forced to choose between granting immunity to exercise its oversight and investigative functions and forgoing a grant of immunity in order to allow prosecution of key witnesses. This article overviews the history of congressional use immunity and analyzes some major judicial opinions concerning the Federal use immunity statute. The author argues that the Court of Appeals misinterpreted the Federal use immunity statute and, in these rulings, misapplied the relevant legal standards. He recommends a combined legislative and judicial strategy to reconcile competing interests that could arise in a similar situation while protecting a defendant's Fifth Amendment rights against self- incrimination. 101 notes


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