282 U.S. 344 (1931), 111, Go-Bart Importing Company v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 111
Citation:282 U.S. 344, 51 S.Ct. 153, 75 L.Ed. 374
Party Name:Go-Bart Importing Company v. United States
Case Date:January 05, 1931
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 344

282 U.S. 344 (1931)

51 S.Ct. 153, 75 L.Ed. 374

Go-Bart Importing Company


United States

No. 111

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 5, 1931

Argued November 25, 1930




1. A warrant issued by a United States Commissioner, addressed only to the Marshal and his deputies, and based upon, and reciting the substance of, a complaint that was verified merely on information and belief, and that did not state an offense -- heldinvalid on its face, and no authority to prohibition officers to make an arrest. P. 355.

2. Acting under color of an invalid warrant of arrest, and falsely claiming to have a search warrant, prohibition agents entered the office of a company, placed under arrest two of its officers, and made a general search of the premises. They compelled by threats of force the opening of a desk and safe, and seized therefrom and from other parts of the office, papers and records belonging to the company and its officers. The officers of the company were arraigned before a United States Commissioner, and by him held on bail further to answer the complaint (U.S.C., Title 18, § 591), while the seized papers were held under the control of the United States Attorney in the care and custody of the prohibition agent in charge. The company, and its two officers individually, before

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an information or indictment had been returned against them, applied to the District Court for an order to enjoin the use of the seized papers as evidence and directing their return. On a rule against the United States to show cause, the United States Attorney appeared and opposed the motion, and an affidavit of the agent in charge was also filed in opposition. The applications were denied.


(1) In the proceedings before him, the Commissioner acted merely a an officer of the District Court in a matter of which it had authority to take control at any time. P. 353.

(2) Notwithstanding the order to show cause was addressed to the United States alone, the proceeding was in substance and effect against the United States Attorney and the prohibition agent in charge, the latter being required by the Prohibition Act to report violations of it to the former and being authorized by the statute, subject to the former's control, to conduct such prosecutions; and both these officers were subject to the proper exertion of the disciplinary powers of the court. P. 354.

(3) The District Court had jurisdiction summarily to determine whether the evidence should be suppressed and the papers returned to the petitioners. P. 355.

(4) The company being a stranger to the proceedings before the Commissioner, the order of the District Court as to it was final and appealable. P. 356.

(5) There being no information or indictment against the officers of the company when the application was made, and nothing to show that any criminal proceeding would ever be instituted in that court against them, it follows that the order was not made in or dependent upon any case or proceeding pending before the court, and therefore the order as to them was appealable. Id.

(6) The Fourth Amendment forbids every search that is unreasonable, and is to be liberally construed. P. 356.

(7) Assuming that the facts of which the arresting officers had been previously informed were sufficient to justify the arrests without a warrant, nevertheless the uncontradicted evidence requires a finding that the search of the premises was unreasonable. Marron v. United States, 275 U.S. 192, distinguished. P. 356.

(8) The District Court is directed to enjoin the United States Attorney and the agent in charge from using the paper as evidence and to order the same returned to petitioners. P. 358.

40 F.2d 593 reversed.

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Certiorari, 281 U.S. 719, to review a judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals which affirmed in part a judgment of the District Court denying applications for an order to suppress and return evidence alleged to have been illegally obtained.

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BUTLER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BUTLER delivered the opinion of the Court.

In a criminal proceeding before a United States commissioner in the Southern District [51 S.Ct. 155] of New York in which Gowen, Bartels, and others are defendants, the petitioners applied to the district court for an order enjoining the use as evidence of books and papers alleged to have been seized and taken from petitioners in violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, and directing their return. The court made an order that the United States show cause why the relief prayed should not be granted. The United States attorney appeared and opposed the motion, and affidavits of W. J. Calhoun, special agent in charge of special agents of the Bureau of Prohibition, and certain of his subordinates were filed in opposition. The district court denied the applications. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed as to the United States attorney and held that, as to the special agent in charge, the order to show cause should have been discharged. 40 F.2d 593.

Petitioners' applications to the district court, which are in form affidavits, set forth the following:

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June 5, 1929, Calhoun went before the United States commissioner and, in order to have a warrant issued for the arrest of Gowen, Bartels and others, verified and filed a complaint. He alleged, upon information and belief, that, beginning January 1, 1929, and continuing down to the filing of the complaint Gowen, Bartels, and other defendants conspired in that district to commit a nuisance against the United States, that is to say, to possess, transport, sell, and solicit and receive orders for intoxicating liquor in violation of the National Prohibition Act, and that, in pursuance of the conspiracy and to effect its objects, one Heath purchased an automobile on May 23, 1929. See 27 U.S.C. §§ 33, 35. The complaint did not specify any building , structure, location, or place, or set forth any particulars or other overt act or show any connection between the purchase of the automobile and any offense referred to in the complaint. On the same day, the commissioner issued a warrant in the usual form commanding the marshal of the district and his deputies to apprehend the persons so accused and to bring them before the commissioner or some judge or justice of the United States to be dealt with according to law.

On the next day Calhoun's subordinates, prohibition agents O'Brien, Collins, and Sipe, went to the petitioning company's office at No. 200 Fifth avenue. Bartels, the secretary-treasurer of the company, was there when they entered. O'Brien said he had a warrant to search the premises, and exhibited a paper which he falsely claimed was such a warrant. The agents arrested Bartels, searched his person, and took papers therefrom. While they were there, Gowen, the president of the company, came to the office. O'Brien told him that he had a warrant for his arrest and a warrant to search the premises. The agents arrested and searched Gowen and took papers from him. They took his keys and by threat of force compelled him to open a desk and safe, searched and took papers from

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them, searched other parts of the office, and took therefrom other papers, journals, account books, letter files, insurance policies, cancelled checks, index cards, and other things belonging respectively to Gowen, Bartels, and the company. For brevity, these will be referred to herein as "papers."

Gowen and Bartels were on the same day arraigned before the commissioner and held on bail further to answer the complaint. A date was set for the examination, hearing has been postponed from time to time, and no examination has been had. The papers so seized were taken to the office of Calhoun in the Subtreasury Building, where they were examined by him and the United States attorney and their subordinates, and such papers have since been kept and held there, as is later herein shown, under the control of the United States attorney in the care and custody of the special agent in charge, for use as evidence against Gowen and Bartels.

Soon after the seizures were made, each of the petitioners brought a suit in equity in the federal court for that district against the special agent in charge and the United States attorney, to enjoin them from using such papers as evidence and to have them returned. The court dismissed these suits on the ground that the proper remedy was by motion in the criminal proceedings.

Then, Gowen and Bartels, each in his own behalf, and the company, acting through Bartels, made these applications. The court made its order that the United States show cause why an injunction should not issue restraining it and its officers from using as evidence the papers so seized, and why an order should not issue directing their return.

In opposition, the affidavit of one Braidwood was submitted. It tends to show that, in 1927 and 1928, petitioners and others acting together engaged in the unlawful sale of intoxicating liquor, that, at the company's office,

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they exhibited and took orders for intoxicating liquor some of which was delivered there and some elsewhere, and that, in April, 1929, he reported these facts to Calhoun. Calhoun's affidavit states that Braidwood had so reported, and that, by independent investigations, he had corroborated such statements, and thus knew that a conspiracy unlawfully to sell intoxicating liquors in 1928 and 1929 had been entered into and overt acts in furtherance thereof had been performed within the district, and that he believed the petitioners [51 S.Ct. 156] had been parties to such conspiracy, that, prior to the day of the arrests, he communicated such statements and belief to O'Brien and assigned him to further investigate the case.

O'Brien's affidavit states: from the information given him by Calhoun, he...

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