115 F.2d 690 (D.D.C. 1940), 7686, Nueslein v. District of Columbia

Docket Nº:7686.
Citation:115 F.2d 690
Case Date:November 25, 1940
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

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115 F.2d 690 (D.D.C. 1940)




No. 7686.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia.

November 25, 1940

In Error to the Police Court of District of Columbia.

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J. Robert Carey, of Washington, D.C. for appellant.

Elwood H. Seal, Corp. Counsel, Vernon E. West, Principal Asst. Corp. Counsel, and John O'Dea, Asst. Corp. Counsel, all of Washington, D.C., for appellee.

Before GRONER, Chief Justice and EDGERTON and VINSON, Associate justices.

VINSON, Associate Justice.

Appellant was convicted in the Police Court of driving while under the influence of liquor. We allowed an appeal.

At about 1:15 in the morning, two officers in a Scout car received a call to investigate an accident. A taxicab had struck a parked car. In the cab, parked about a block and a half from the scene of the accident, the officers saw the registration card and the character license of the taxi owner. Following this lead, they went to the owner's home, knocked at the door and received no reply. Then without a search or an arrest warrant, they either opened the door or passed through the door already opened, and entered the home. They called out the name revealed by the registration card and character license; there was an answer from upstairs. They went up, knocked on, and spoke through, the bathroom door. The owner of the taxi said that he would be right down. After about fifteen minutes he did come down and stated that he was driving the cab at the time of the accident. The officers acknowledging this statement of fact and believing him to be drunk placed him under arrest. The defendant was convicted of driving an automobile while under the influence of liquor.

The bill of exceptions raises several questions, but we are concerned only with that one which challenges the admissibility of the officers' testimony that the defendant said he was driving the taxicab at the time of the accident. If the admission of this evidence was error, the decision of the lower Court must be reversed.

The legal issue of this case is whether the officers' testimony in respect to the defendant's declaration is admissible in view of 'The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, * * * '. 1 The case: Officers while conducting a general investigation of an accident, enter a private home without a warrant of any kind and without being confronted at the door by the possessor; later, but still in his home, the possessor makes a voluntary declaration of fact to the officers; this fact plus his appearance results in the conclusion by the officers that this man has committed a misdemeanor; they take him into custody.

Counsel did not cite and we are unable to find any case that is completely convincing in respect to the present situation. Similar cases have held the evidence inadmissible; 2 Similar cases have held the

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evidence admissible. 3 The general statements in the judicial authorities have covered this case-- both ways. The commentators who have collected, analyzed, and criticized the cases bring one, before abandonment, to the verge of the present problem where exists the heaviest cross-fire between the legal significance of voluntary declarations, and a completely unlawful entry into a home. 4

The crucial thing 'found' in this 'search' was a declaration of fact by the defendant that has become decidedly incriminating. Yet the derivations of the IVth and Vth Amendments are distinct. Undoubtedly in each provision, the framers had specific abuses of governmental power in mind. Grammatic logic also leads to the result that the IVth and Vth Amendments treat separate problems. The IVth secures one type of privacy; the Vth protects against testimonial compulsion. The constitutional protection afforded by these two Amendments and the rules of evidence travel on different planes: The Amendments are directed toward thwarting oppression by the federal government, and the rules of evidence, for the most part, toward the probabilities of truth. Apart from duress and the like, the illegal acquisition of evidence does not weaken its reliability, and hence at common law the method of obtainment usually had no bearing upon the admissibility.

Under such an analysis it would seem that one should conclude that the defendant's voluntary statement to the officers that he was driving the taxicab at the time of the accident should be admitted. This coupled with his admission at the trial that he had drunk a glass of beer before the accident and the testimony of other witnesses that he was intoxicated at the time he was taken into custody would support the determination that the defendant was guilty of driving while under the influence of liquor. This may well be the truth of the matter. Under this view, whatever relief the defendant is entitled to, because of the infringement of the IVth Amendment, is now irrelevant; other action must be taken to settle the collateral constitutional issue.

We conclude, nonetheless, that the officers' testimony regarding the defendant's declaration is inadmissible. Although the IVth Amendment was written against the background of the general warrants in England and the writs of assistance in the American colonies, 'The right of the people to be secure in their * * * houses * * * shall not be violated, * * *.' gives a protection wider than these abuses. 5 While history is replete

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with instances of hasty overgeneralizations, thought to be fundamental truths, drawn from the solution of a particular problem, we must regard constitutional provisions as more generic and more organic than other law with which we deal

The IVth and Vth Amendments relate to different issues, but cases can present facts which make the considerations behind these Amendments overlap. 6 The officers violated the security of the defendant under the IVth by unlawfully coming into his home and by placing him in custody. The defendant's statement to the officers that he was driving the cab now incriminates him, even though it does not fall within the Vth because it does not come under the category of testimonial compulsion, a concept which has broadened as has the 'security' of the IVth. But how did the officers find themselves in position to see and hear the defendant? The officers, in the pursuance of a general investigation, entered the home under no color of right. They did not know that the defendant was driving the car; they did not know that any offense had been committed. If they had gone after a search warrant what would have been the crime charged, what evidence would have been detailed as pertinent? The absence of a search warrant could scarcely make good an entry for which no warrant could have been obtained. Even if a warrant could have been made out, it is still unreasonable to enter a home without one where only a misdemeanor not committed in the presence of officers could have been charged. When the officers entered they were just investigating. They were still

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illegally investigating when the defendant told them that he was driving the cab at the time of the accident. The officers...

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