Fourth Amendment Case Decisions of the United States Supreme Court

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Cases Before 1960

Boyd v. United States 116 U.S. 616 (1886)

This case began the development of right to privacy protections. The U.S. Supreme Court held, in overturning a statute, that the forced production of, in this case, business records violated the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures and the Fifth Amendment protection against forced self incrimination.

Weeks v. United States 232 U.S. 383 (1914)

In this case, the exclusionary rule was born. The exclusionary rule forbids the use of illegally obtained evidence in a criminal trial.

Justice William R. Day held that the warrantless searches and arrest of Weeks was a Fourth Amendment violation and that the seizures and arrest were an invasion of Weeks's right of personal security, personal liberty, and private property.

Carroll v. United States 267 U.S. 132 (1925)

George Carroll and John Kiro were arrested for the transportation of alcohol in violation of the Volstead Act (national alcohol prohibition) and subsequently convicted.

In a 6-2 decision, Chief Justice William H. Taft rejected the argument that there was no basis to search their car and that the resulting evidence should have been excluded from trial. This case made a distinction between a person's dwelling and a moving vehicle, holding that such a distinction was consistent with Fourth Amendment guarantees.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice James McReynolds argues that there was insufficient cause to stop the car without a warrant and the resulting seizure of evidence violated the plaintiff's Fourth Amendment protections.

The Court has continued this distinction between a private dwelling and an automobile due to it's mobility, affording it less protection and exempting it from more traditional warrant requirements.

Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160 (1949)

Brinegar, a resident of Vinita, Oklahoma, had been arrested five months prior by an officer Malsed for illegally transporting liquor in Oklahoma. Malsed had also seen him loading liquor into a vehicle in Joplin, Missouri, on at least two occasions during the previous six months, and knew him to have a reputation for hauling liquor. In this case, Brinegar drove past Malsed who was parked near a bridge five miles west of the Oklahoma Missouri border. Malsed and his partner, Creehan, both later testified that Brinegar's Ford coupe appeared to be "heavily loaded". Brinegar sped up when he saw Malsed and Creehan and the officers gave chase. After about a mile, the officers forced Brinegar off the road.

When Malsed and Creehan exited their car, Malsed asked Brinegar how much liquor he had in the car. Brinegar replied "Not too much." or "Not so much." After further questioning, Brinegar admitted to having twelve cases in his vehicle. Malsed later testified that one case was visible from outside the car on the front passenger seat. Twelve more cases were found under and behind the front seat.

Prior to trial, Brinegar motioned to suppress the evidence as an unlawful search and seizure. The motion was denied, and was again denied during his trial. Brinegar was convicted of importing intoxicating liquor into Oklahoma from Missouri in violation of a federal law forbidding such importation contrary to the laws of a state. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Justice Rutledge delivered the opinion of the Court, affirming the lower Court's decisions. In holding that the standards for conviction and probable cause are necessarily different, Justice Rutledge wrote about the trial court's rulings,"The court's rulings, one admitting, the other excluding the identical testimony, were neither inconsistent nor improper. They illustrate the difference in standards and latitude allowed in passing upon the distinct issues of probable cause and guilt." Justice Rutledge further held that, "Probable cause exists where the facts and circumstances within the officers' knowledge, and of which they have reasonably trustworthy information, are sufficient in themselves to warrant a belief by a man of reasonable caution that a crime is being committed."

United States v. Rabinowitz 339 U.S. 56 (1950)

Rabinowitz was arrested in his one room place of business for selling forged postage stamps to a government agent. FBI agents had secured an arrest warrant but not a search warrant. The officers searched his office after his arrest and seized some additional forged stamps. The seized stamps were used as evidence at his trial which resulted in his conviction.

The Court held that the Fourth Amendment permits a warrantless search incident to a lawful arrest. The person arrested and the premises may be searched. In this case the search was reasonable because it was incident to his arrest, the business was open to the public and the agents were lawfully there, the one room business was under the immediate control of Rabinowitz, only the one room was searched, and because possession of the forged stamp was a crime.

United States v. Jeffers, 342 U.S. 48 (1951)

Two police officers entered a District of Columbia hotel room rented to Jeffers' aunts at a time when neither they nor Jeffers were present and without a warrant, searched the room, and seized 19 bottles of cocaine and one bottle of codeine. Jeffers claimed ownership of the contraband and was charged and convicted of violating narcotics laws in a District Court despite his motion to suppress the evidence seized without a warrant as a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

In affirming the ruling of the Court of Appeals, Justice Clark held that the warrantless seizure did violate the Fourth Amendment and that the narcotics should have been excluded as evidence at Jeffers trial. Justice Clark wrote "The search and seizure were not incident to a valid arrest; and there were no exceptional circumstances to justify their being made without a warrant."

The Government had argued in this case that no property rights within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment existed in the seized narcotics because they were contraband as declared by Congress in 26 U.S.C. 3116. Justice Clark dismissed their argument, holding that, for purposes of the exclusionary rule, it was property and that Jeffers was entitled to motion to have it suppressed as evidence at trial but that, because it was contraband, he was not entitled to have it returned to him.

Draper v. United States, 358 U.S. 307 (1959)

Draper was convicted of possession of heroin after an officer, Agent Marsh of the Bureau of Narcotics in Denver, received a tip from a paid informant named Hereford. According to Marsh, Hereford had told him that Draper was going to Chicago to purchase three ounces of heroin and would return by train on either the morning of September 8 or the morning of September 9. Hereford also told Marsh that Draper would be carrying a tan zipper bag, described the clothing he would be wearing, and that Draper "walked real fast".

On the morning of September 8, Marsh and a Denver police officer went to the train station. They observed passengers exiting the trains but saw no one who fit the description of Draper. Returning on September 9, they saw a man fitting the description wearing the exact clothes Hereford described. Marsh and the police officer stopped and arrested Draper without a warrant. Subsequent to the arrest, Draper was searched and two envelopes of heroin were found in a raincoat pocket and a syringe was discovered in a tan zipper bag.

Before his trial, Draper moved to suppress the evidence seized as the result of an unlawful search and seizure. The District Court did not agree, finding that the arresting officer had probable cause to arrest Draper without a warrant and that the search and seizure were incident to a lawful arrest. Draper was convicted at trial and the decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

The decision of the Supreme Court was delivered by Justice Whittaker. In affirming the earlier decisions, Whittaker held that even if the paid informant's information was hearsay, Marsh was legally entitled to consider it in determining whether he had probable cause and that it provided reasonable grounds for an arrest. Justice Whittaker wrote "The information in the possession of the narcotics agent was sufficient to show probable cause and reasonable grounds to believe that petitioner had violated or was violating the narcotics laws and to justify his arrest without a warrant."

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Douglas offered this rebuttal, "If an arrest is made without a warrant, the offense must be committed in the presence of the officer or the officer must have "reasonable grounds to believe that the person to be arrested has committed or is committing" a violation of the narcotics law. The arresting officers did not have a bit of evidence, known to them and as to which they could take an oath had they gone to a magistrate for a warrant, that petitioner had committed any crime. The arresting officers did not know the grounds on which the informer based his conclusion; nor did they seek to find out what they were. They acted solely on the informer's word. In my view that was not enough."


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