The opinion of the court was delivered by: COHILL
Presently before the Court is the Government's Motion to Enforce Grand Jury Subpoena. For the reasons that follow, we will deny the motion.
A federal grand jury sitting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is investigating a heroin and cocaine distribution ring. In addition to considering violations of the drug laws, the grand jury is also investigating for possible violations of the federal tax laws.
On March 30, 1989, the Government subpoenaed the records of 12 individuals allegedly receiving public assistance from the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare ("DPW"). Subsequently, the Government cancelled the subpoena because it learned that federal regulations to certain public assistance programs such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children ("AFDC"), the Medical Assistance Act and the Food Stamp Act, prohibited blanket disclosure.
Thereafter, the Government issued the instant subpoena, requesting the records and files of 5 individuals allegedly receiving public assistance. The subpoena specifically excluded any records pertaining to the AFDC program. On November 2, 1989, Edward Carey, Regional Counsel for DPW at the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania office, accepted service of the subpoena. An investigation of the subpoenaed records revealed that one individual had no record, one received AFDC benefits, two received food stamps and medical assistance, and the fifth individual received both food stamps and general assistance, a state funded program. Conceding that it was not entitled to the records of the individuals receiving federally funded public assistance, the Government amended its request to those records of the one individual who received both general assistance and food stamps.
When Mr. Carey appeared before the grand jury on November 14, 1989, he refused to produce the records of the individual receiving food stamps and general assistance. Citing Pennsylvania regulations, Mr. Carey explained that like the federal regulations, Pennsylvania law prohibited the disclosure of the records of a general assistance recipient. Alternatively, he maintained that the food stamp portion of the record was inseparable from the general assistance portion of the record, and that he was unable to divulge this information pursuant to the Food Stamp Act confidentiality regulation.
The Government, believing that it is entitled to the records of the general assistance recipient, has filed the instant motion to enforce its subpoena. In support of its motion, the Government asserts that, "the statutes of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are not controlling where a person is accused of a violation of federal law." Government's Memorandum, at 3. In addition, the Assistant United States Attorney has attached a Schofield affidavit stating that the records sought are necessary and relevant to the investigation and are "being sought for no other purpose than that indicated within this affidavit." Affidavit of William V. Conley, Esq., Attachment C; see In re Grand Jury Proceedings, 486 F.2d 85 (3d Cir. 1973) (Schofield I); In re Grand Jury Proceedings, 507 F.2d 963 (3d Cir. 1975) (Schofield II).
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires a grand jury indictment for the institution of federal criminal prosecutions for capital or other serious crimes. The grand jury thus has the "dual function of determining if there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and of protecting citizens against unfounded criminal prosecutions." Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 686-87, 33 L. Ed. 2d 626, 92 S. Ct. 2646 (1972). Recognizing the grand jury's role in fair and effective law enforcement, the United States Supreme Court has held that the grand jury's investigative powers are broad. Id., 408 U.S. at 688; United States v. Calandra, 414 U.S. 338, 343, 38 L. Ed. 2d 561, 94 S. Ct. 613 (1974).
However, the grand jury does not have unlimited investigatory power. The scope of its powers is narrowed by the "long-standing principle that 'the public . . . has a right to every man's evidence,' except for those persons protected by a constitutional, common-law, or statutory privilege. . . ." Id., 408 U.S. at 688 (quoting United States v. Bryan, 339 U.S. 323, 331, 94 L. Ed. 884, 70 S. Ct. 724 (1950)).
DPW contends that the federal grand jury subpoena unconstitutionally intrudes into the reach of state sovereignty because as a matter of state law, the state records are privileged from subpoena. In addition, DPW maintains that Pennsylvania law prevents it from releasing the records without an order from a court of competent jurisdiction.
The raison d'etre for a federal grand jury, however, is found in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Under the Supremacy Clause, Article VI, Clause 2, the superior authority of the federal Constitution controls the conflict between state nondisclosure laws and federal investigatory powers. In addition, as the Government correctly points out, Rule 501 of the Federal Rules of Evidence provides that federal, not state, privilege law applies in criminal cases brought in federal court. Thus, the fact that an evidentiary privilege under the Pennsylvania statute exists which DPW could assert in a criminal prosecution in state court, does not compel the court to recognize this privilege in federal criminal proceedings. United States v. Gillock, 445 U.S. 360, 368, 63 L. Ed. 2d 454, 100 S. Ct. 1185 (1980).
Rule 501 of the Federal Rules of Evidence provides in relevant part:
Except as otherwise required by the Constitution of the United States or provided by Act of Congress or in rules prescribed by the Supreme Court pursuant to statutory authority, the privilege of a witness, person, government, State or political subdivision thereof shall be governed by the principles of the common law as they may be ...