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Case Basics
Docket No. 
Samuel Spevack
Solomon A. Klein
(for the petitioner)
(respondent pro se)
Facts of the Case 

The New York Bar charged Samuel Spevack, an attorney from New York, with professional misconduct because he refused to produce financial records and testify at a judicial inquiry. In his defense, Spevack claimed his constitutional right against self-incrimination, and stated that the records and testimony would tend to incriminate him. The New York appellate court rejected Spevack’s defense and ordered Spevack disbarred, holding that the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination was not available to attorneys against states.


Is the Self-Incrimination Clause of the Fifth Amendment applicable against states when the person claiming the right against self-incrimination is an attorney?

Decision: 5 votes for Spevack, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Self-Incrimination

Yes. Justice William O. Douglas wrote the plurality opinion of the Court reversing the lower court’s decision. Writing for himself and three other justices, Douglas maintained that the Self-Incrimination Clause of the Fifth Amendment is applicable against states because the Fourteenth Amendment prevents states from interfering with the rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment, including the right to remain silent without suffering a penalty. This protection extends to lawyers, and Spevack should have been able to assert his right against self-incrimination without being penalized by the dishonor of disbarment and the deprivation of his livelihood.

Justice Abe Fortas voted with the majority but wrote a special concurrence distinguishing between a lawyer's right to remain silent, which he acknowledged, and that of a public employee, who could be questioned about his official duties without the self-incrimination protection.

Justice John Marshall Harlan II dissented, joined by Justices Tom Clark and Potter Stewart. Harlan wrote that the State of New York had the authority to impose valid conditions on the authority to practice law and to assess qualifications for continued practice. He concluded that the plurality improperly invalidated New York’s rules by reversing Spevack’s disbarment and determined that protection from disbarment for failure to provide information to a judicial inquiry went beyond the scope of the right against self-incrimination.

Cite this Page
SPEVACK v. KLEIN. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 26 August 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1966/1966_62>.
SPEVACK v. KLEIN, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1966/1966_62 (last visited August 26, 2015).
"SPEVACK v. KLEIN," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 26, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1966/1966_62.