The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the denial of a local utility company’s motion to quash a grand jury subpoena duces tecum, which compelled the company to release the names and billing addresses of all of its residential customers in certain areas. The subpoena was issued subsequent to the company’s refusal to release the information to the Madison County Tax Assessor, who sought to use the information to ascertain whether property tax homestead exemption claimants were committing tax fraud by comparing the billing addresses of the homeowners to the current tax roll.
The court held that the subpoena was not an abuse of the grand jury process because the grand jury requested information that reasonably could support criminal indictments based on tax fraud. Further, the tax assessor’s involvement did not constitute an improper influence of the grand jury, nor did it violate any other rules. Finally, the court found that the subpoena did not violate due process or privacy rights of customers, nor was it an improper, arbitrary “fishing” expedition, as grand juries may seek evidence even when they do not have a specific individual or crime to investigate.
The court concluded by noting that the grand jury requested information that was potentially relevant to a criminal investigation, and the utility failed to show that the subpoenas was sought for an unauthorized purposes. “Although there existed a possibility, perhaps a strong one, that the evidence thus acquired might be used for a collateral purpose, the fact that the subject matter of the subpoena carried with it the potential for ferreting out criminal activity for which the grand jury could have returned indictments ends the discussion.” Thus, the denial of the utility company’s motion to quash was affirmed.
The full text of the opinion is attached.