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 of the 1960s

Mapp v. Ohio 367 U.S. 643 (1961)

In this very important case, Fourth Amendment protections were incorporated into the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This incorporation resulted in requiring state and local police to comply with Fourth Amendment standards in regards to searches and extended the exclusionary rule to trials in state courts.

Dolly Mapp's home was searched by seven police officers who claimed they had a warrant but never produced it. The police alleged that an informant had told them that a bombing suspect and gambling paraphernalia were inside the residence. Neither were found but the police confiscated what they termed obscene materials. Mapp was convicted of possessing obscene materials and imprisoned.

Justice Tom Clark wrote that the lack of an exclusionary rule left states without an effective means of dealing with unreasonable searches and seizures.

Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108 (1964)

Two members of the Houston, Texas police department asked a local Justice of the Peace to issue a warrant to search the home of a man (Aguilar) they suspected of possessing heroin, marijuana, and other illegal drugs. They presented an affidavit to the Justice of the Peace simply stating they had "reliable information from a credible person" who told them of the presence of the illegal drugs. A search warrant was issued based on the affidavit.

The local police, along with federal officers, knocked on Aguilar's door and announced that they were police. The police heard commotion inside the house, forced their way in and retrieved a packet of heroin from a commode as Aguilar attempted to flush it. Aguilar was arrested and charged with possession of heroin.

At trial, Aguilar's attorney objected to the admission of the heroin as evidence on Fourth Amendment grounds. The objection was overruled and Aguilar was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in state prison. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the decision.

Justice Goldberg delivered the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court. In reversing the ruling of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Goldberg held that the information presented in the affidavit to the Justice of the Peace did not provide a sufficient basis for a finding of probable cause and the evidence seized should not have been admitted at trial. Justice Goldberg explained that while an affidavit does not need to be based on the personal observations of the person seeking the warrant and that it may contain hearsay information, the magistrate must be informed of some of the underlying circumstances on which the seeker draws their conclusions and some of the underlying circumstances as to why an informant is credible and their information reliable.

Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91 (1964)

After receiving a tip from an informant, Cleveland, Ohio police officers stopped William Beck as he was driving his automobile on Beulah Ave. near 115th St. Without a warrant, the officers placed Beck under arrest and searched his car. Finding nothing in the car, Beck was taken to the police station where a search of his person revealed some gambling related clearing house slips, possession of which was a violation of an Ohio criminal statute.

Beck filed a motion in District Court to suppress the clearing house slips claiming they were illegally siezed in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Beck's motion was overruled and he was convicted. His conviction was ultimately upheld by both an Ohio Court of Appeals and the Ohio Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of Ohio had ruled that although Beck was arrested and his automobile searched without a warrant, the seizure of the clearing house slips was constitutionally valid as a search incident to a lawful arrest.

Justice Stewart delivered the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court. In overturning the decision of the Ohio Supreme Court, Stewart held that Ohio's reliance on Draper v. United States, (1959) was not sufficient. Stewart wrote that in Draper, the informant had provided detailed and verified information to Denver narcotics agents and had done so on more than one occasion. In this case, the officers knew only what Beck looked like and knew that he had been previously arrested or convicted for violations of the clearing house law. "In complete contrast", Stewart held, "the record in this case does not contain a single objective fact to support a belief by the officers that the petitioner was engaged in criminal activity at the time they arrested him." Stewart further held, "We may assume that the officers acted in good faith. But good faith on the part of the arresting officers is not enough. If subjective good faith alone were the test, the protections of the Fourth Amendment would evaporate, and the people would be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, only in the discretion of the police."

Hoffa v. United States, 385 U.S. 293 (1966)

James (Jimmy) Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, was convicted In Federal District Court of attempting to bribe two members of a jury in a previous trial. Edward Partin, a Louisiana Teamsters official turned government informant, provided testimony against Hoffa. Partin testified to details of the bribery attempts learned through statements he said Hoffa and co-defendant Ewing King made in his presence. Some of the statements testified to were made in a hotel room, some were made in a hall in the hotel, and some were made in the Courthouse. For his testimony, indictments pending against Partin were not pursued, and cash payments were made to his wife.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case to answer the question of whether the use of the evidence furnished by Partin rendered the conviction of Hoffa invalid on Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment grounds. Hoffa contended that Partin conducted an illegal search for verbal evidence by not disclosing his role as a government informant. Therefore, Hoffa argued, Partin's testimony should not have been admitted under the exclusionary rule established in Weeks v. United States (1914).

Justice Powell delivered the opinion of the Court, writing "What the Fourth Amendment protects is the security a man relies upon when he places himself or his property within a constitutionally protected area, be it his home or his office, his hotel room or his automobile. There he is protected from unwarranted governmental intrusion." Powell explained that because Partin had not entered the hotel room by stealth or by force but had been invited, and that every conversation testified to by Partin was either directed at him or freely made in his presence, no legitimate interest protected by the Fourth Amendment had been violated.

Katz v. United States 389 U.S. 347 (1967)

In this case, a reasonable expectation of privacy test was created. Federal agents had attached a listening device to the outside of a phone booth that was know to be often used by Mr. Katz. Evidence of his end of the conversations obtained by the listening device was admitted in his trial in which he was accused of transmitting wagering information by telephone. The lower court held that this was not a search because the wall of the phone booth had not been physically penetrated. Their ruling was based on Olmstead v. United States (1928) in which the Supreme Court had ruled that a tap of a telephone did not constitute a search.

In Katz, the Supreme Court ruled that the electronic "listening to" and recording of Mr. Katz's conversation violated the privacy upon which he justifiably relied and thus constituted a search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Justic John M. Harlan, in a concurring opinion, established a two part test for this right of privacy. First, a person must exhibit an actual expectation of privacy. Second, this expectation must be one that society recognizes as "reasonable".

Terry v. Ohio 392 U.S. 1 (1968)

This case was the first in a long line of Supreme Court cases that recognized the police practice known as "stop and frisk" as a legitimate law enforcement tool. Stop and frisk is a stopping and interrogation or brief investigation which may be accompanied by the patting down of outer clothing to make sure the suspect is not armed.

A policemen, suspicious of two men who he suspected were planning a robbery, confronted the men. He asked their names, patted them down and discovered pistols on Terry and his companion. Terry was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon.

The Supreme Court ruled that, for the protection of an officer, stop and frisk was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment when a police officer's experience tells him that criminal activity may be occurring and that the suspected crimal may be armed and dangerous.

Spinelli v. United States 393 U.S. 410 (1969)

Spinelli was followed for several days by FBI agents conducting a gambling investigation. The agents observed him going to a specific apartment on those occasions. This apartment was known by the FBI to have two telephone lines. An informant told the agents that Spinelli was a known gambler and that the two telephone lines were used to conduct illegal gambling operations.

The Spinelli case expanded on the requirements of obtaining search warrants established in Aguilar v. Texas. In Aguilar, the Supreme Court held that in issuing a search warrant, a magistrate must be informed of some of the circumstances surrounding the warrant and must be informed about the reliability of the informant.

The Court further expanded this test in Spinelli, holding that in order for a magistrate to issue a warrant based in part on an informant's tip, the state must present specific facts as to the credibility and reliability of the informant. In this case, the informant's tip was rejected because the affidavit contained neither any information which showed the basis of the tip nor any information which showed the informant's credibility. The corroborating evidence was deemed insufficient because it did not establish any element of criminality but merely related details which did not describe activities criminal in themselves.

Later courts combined the Spinelli and Aguilar cases to create the Aguilar-Spinelli test that was used by the Supreme Court until 1983.


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© Paul Kelly