Mathis v. United States, 391 U.S. 1 (1968)

Author: Justice Black

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Mathis v. United States, 391 U.S. 1 (1968)

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner was convicted by a jury in a United States District Court on two counts charging that he knowingly filed false claims against the Government in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 287,{1} and sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment on each count, the sentences to run concurrently. The frauds charged were claims for tax refunds growing out of petitioner’s individual income taxes for 1960 and 1961. Both income tax returns for these two years asserted receipts of income from two different companies which the government agents were unable to locate and which evidence offered tended to show were nonexistent. The amount of income claimed in each tax return was calculated in such a way as to show that these two nonexistent employers had withheld taxes sufficient to justify substantial refunds to petitioner. The Government paid the 1960 tax refund to petitioner of $85.60 as claimed, but the record fails to show whether the 1961 claimed refund was paid. A part of the evidence on which the conviction rested consisted of documents and oral statements obtained from petitioner by a government agent while petitioner was in prison serving a state sentence. Before eliciting this information, the government agent did not not warn petitioner that any evidence he gave the Government could be used against him, and that he had a right to remain silent if he desired as well as a right to the presence of counsel, and that, if he was unable to afford counsel, one would be appointed for him. At trial, petitioner sought several times without success to have the judge hold hearings out of the presence of the jury to prove that his statements to the revenue agent were given without these warnings, and should therefore not be used as evidence against him. For this contention, he relied exclusively on our case of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). The District Court rejected this contention, as did the Court of Appeals in affirming. 376 F.2d 595. We granted certiorari to decide whether the Miranda case calls for reversal. We hold that it does.

There can be no doubt that the documents and oral statements given by petitioner to the government agent and used against him were strongly incriminating.{2} In the Miranda case, this Court’s opinion stated at some length the constitutional reasons why one in custody who is interrogated by officers about matters that might tend to incriminate him is entitled to be warned

that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that, if he cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires.

384 U.S. at 479. The Government here seeks to escape application of the Miranda warnings on two arguments: (1) that these questions were asked as a part of a routine tax investigation, where no criminal proceedings might even be brought, and (2) that the petitioner had not been put in jail by the officers questioning him, but was there for an entirely separate offense. These differences are too minor and shadowy to justify a departure from the well considered conclusions of Miranda with reference to warnings to be given to a person held in custody.

It is true that a "routine tax investigation" may be initiated for the purpose of a civil action, rather than criminal prosecution. To this extent, tax investigations differ from investigations of murder, robbery, and other crimes. But tax investigations frequently lead to criminal prosecutions, just as the one here did. In fact, the last visit of the revenue agent to the jail to question petitioner took place only eight days before the full-fledged criminal investigation concededly began. And, as the investigating revenue agent was compelled to admit, there was always the possibility during his investigation that his work would end up in a criminal prosecution. We reject the contention that tax investigations are immune from the Miranda requirements for warnings to be given a person in custody.

The Government also seeks to narrow the scope of the Miranda holding by making it applicable only to questioning one who is "in custody" in connection with the very case under investigation. There is no substance to such a distinction, and, in effect, it goes against the whole purpose of the Miranda decision, which was designed to give meaningful protection to Fifth Amendment rights. We find nothing in the Miranda opinion which calls for a curtailment of the warnings to be given persons under interrogation by officers based on the reason why the person is in custody. In speaking of "custody," the language of the Miranda opinion is clear and unequivocal:

To summarize, we hold that, when an individual is taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom by the authorities in any significant way and is subjected to questioning, the privilege against self-incrimination is jeopardized.

384 U.S. at 478. And the opinion goes on to say that the person so held must be given the warnings about his right to be silent and his right to have a lawyer.

Thus, the courts below were wrong in permitting the introduction of petitioner’s self-incriminating evidence given without warning of his right to be silent and right to counsel. The cause is reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

1. 18 U.S.C. § 287 provides:

Whoever makes or presents to any person or officer in the civil, military, or naval service of the United States, or to any department or agency thereof, any claim upon or against the United States, or any department or agency thereof, knowing such claim to be false, fictitious, or fraudulent, shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

2. Internal Revenue Agent Lawless testified that, on October 30, 1964, he interviewed petitioner in the Florida State Penitentiary to determine if the 1960 return had been prepared by petitioner and to obtain petitioner’s consent in writing to extend the statute of limitations on the 1960 return. At this interview, petitioner identified the 1960 tax return and the signature thereon as his; he also signed the extension form. Again, on March 2, 1965, Agent Lawless interviewed petitioner at the penitentiary, and this time petitioner identified the 1961 tax return and signature thereon as his and signed an extension form for this return.


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Chicago: Black, "Black, J., Lead Opinion," Mathis v. United States, 391 U.S. 1 (1968) in 391 U.S. 1 391 U.S. 3–391 U.S. 5. Original Sources, accessed September 25, 2022,

MLA: Black. "Black, J., Lead Opinion." Mathis v. United States, 391 U.S. 1 (1968), in 391 U.S. 1, pp. 391 U.S. 3–391 U.S. 5. Original Sources. 25 Sep. 2022.

Harvard: Black, 'Black, J., Lead Opinion' in Mathis v. United States, 391 U.S. 1 (1968). cited in 1968, 391 U.S. 1, pp.391 U.S. 3–391 U.S. 5. Original Sources, retrieved 25 September 2022, from