285 U.S. 452 (1932), 466, United States v. Lefkowitz

Docket Nº:No. 466
Citation:285 U.S. 452, 52 S.Ct. 420, 76 L.Ed. 877
Party Name:United States v. Lefkowitz
Case Date:April 11, 1932
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 452

285 U.S. 452 (1932)

52 S.Ct. 420, 76 L.Ed. 877

United States



No. 466

United States Supreme Court

April 11, 1932

Argued February 19, 23, 1932




1. A complaint charged that the defendants conspired to sell, possess, transport, furnish, deliver and take orders for intoxicating liquors, contrary to the National Prohibition Act, and that, as part of the conspiracy, they were to use a designated room in soliciting orders for the liquor, having it delivered by express companies or other carriers, collecting for it and sharing in the proceeds. Under a warrant of arrest issued upon the complaint, the defendants were arrested in the room designated, which was used as an office and was not alleged to be a place where liquor was, or ever had been, manufactured, sold, kept or bartered, or which contained fixtures or other things essential or intended to be used for the sale of liquors to be consumed on the premises or otherwise. Upon making the arrests, the officers explored all desks, cabinets, waste baskets, etc., for evidence of guilt and found various books, papers and other things intended to be used in soliciting orders for liquor, which they took away.


(1) The mere soliciting of orders from the room, in connection with the other uses alleged in the complaint, was not sufficient to constitute maintenance of a nuisance therein. P. 462.

(2) There was no ground for saying that the accused were arrested while committing the crime of conspiracy or nuisance. P. 463.

(3) The search was not justifiable as an incident of the arrests. P. 463.

2. The Fourth Amendment forbids every search that is unreasonable, and is construed liberally to safeguard the right of privacy. P. 464.

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3. A search for and seizure of an individual's papers, solely that they may be used as evidence to convict him of crime, is unconstitutional, even when done under a search warrant issued upon ample evidence and precisely describing the things to be taken and their whereabouts. P. 464.

4. The decisions of this Court distinguish searches of one's house, office, papers, or effects merely to get evidence to convict him of crime from searches such as those made to find stolen goods for return to the owner, to take property that has been forfeited to the Government, to discover property concealed to avoid payment of duties for which it is liable, and from searches such as those made for the seizure of counterfeit coins, burglars' tools, gambling paraphernalia and illicit liquor in order to prevent the commission of crime. P. 465.

5. The Constitution is to be construed with regard to the principles upon which it was established. The direct operation or literal meaning of the words used do not measure the purpose or scope of its provisions. P. 467.

52 F.2d 52, affirmed.

Certiorari, 284 U.S. 612, to review a reversal of an order of the District Court, 47 F.2d 921, which denied a motion for the suppression, as evidence, of papers, etc., seized at the time of serving a warrant of arrest.

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BUTLER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BUTLER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question is whether searches and seizures claimed by the government to have been made as lawfully incident

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to the arrest of respondents on a warrant for conspiracy to violate the National Prohibition Act transgressed their rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

January 12, 1931, a prohibition agent complained to a United States Commissioner in the Southern District of New York that commencing June 21, 1930, and continuing to the time of making the complaint Henry Miller [52 S.Ct. 421] (meaning respondent Lefkowitz), Jane Doe (meaning respondent Paris), and another person called Richard Roe did conspire to sell, possess, transport, furnish, deliver, and take orders for intoxicating liquor contrary to the National Prohibition Act. The complaint alleged it was a part of the conspiracy that, from room 604 at 1547 Broadway, defendants should solicit orders for liquor, have it delivered by express companies or other carriers, collect for it, and share the proceeds. It alleged certain overt acts, but they have no significance upon the question under consideration. The allegations of the complaint show that the complaining witness had knowledge and information of facts amply sufficient to justify the accusation.

The commissioner issued his warrant, to which was attached a copy of the complaint, commanding the marshal and his deputies to arrest defendants. It was given to a deputy marshal for execution, and he, the complaining witness, and three other prohibition agents went to room 604. The room was about ten feet wide and twenty feet long, and was divided by a partition. In its outer portion, there were a stenographer's desk used by respondent Paris, a towel cabinet, and a waste basket, and in the inner part another desk and basket. When the deputy marshal and agents entered, Lefkowitz was in the room. The deputy marshal arrested him, and thereupon one of the prohibition agents searched and took from his person various papers and other things, all of which were given to the deputy marshal and later turned over to the assistant United States attorney. The agents opened all the

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drawers of both desks, examined their contents, took therefrom and carried away books, papers, and other articles.1 They also searched the towel cabinet and took

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papers from it.2 There was no breaking, as the desks and cabinet were not locked. They also took the contents of the baskets and later pasted together pieces of papers found therein.3 Respondent Paris came in while the room was being searched, and the deputy marshal arrested her. All the searches and seizures were made without a search warrant. The prohibition agents delivered to the special agent in charge all the things taken from the desks, cabinet, and baskets. And, until delivered to the assistant United States attorney after Lefkowitz applied to the court for their suppression and return, they were held by the agent in charge for use in making further investigations concerning the conspiracy referred to in the complaint.

January 21, 1931, the District Court on the application of Lefkowitz issued an order to [52 S.Ct. 422] show cause, why the court

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should not make an order for the suppression of evidence obtained by reason of the search of the room and for the return of all the books, papers, and other things belonging to Lefkowitz. With the exception of some things that the prosecuting attorney did not wish to retain as evidence and which he had returned to Lefkowitz before the hearing, all the papers and articles seized were produced and submitted to the court. The Government submitted, in opposition to respondents' motions, affidavits of its attorney, the deputy marshal, and three of the four prohibition agents.

The District Court denied respondents' motions. It construed the complaint to charge felony under section 37 of the Criminal Code defining conspiracy and title 2, § 21 of the National Prohibition Act defining nuisance, held that each of the papers seized was, within the meaning of title 2, sections 21 and 22, kept and used to maintain a nuisance; said that

it is enough if the conspiracy was there or the petitioners or their associates had any of them gathered in the room to conduct the conspiracy or do any act to effect its object;

that "it might well follow that, in the sense of the word as used in the Carroll case, [267 U.S. 132], supra, the seized papers were contraband"; and that

it is not necessary, however, to determine that, for the reason that, at least within the Marron case [275 U.S. 192], all the papers were but usual and ordinary means of carrying on a business of the character presented here.

47 F.2d 921, 922.

The Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. 52 F.2d 52, 54. It found that the search of the person of Lefkowitz was lawful, and that the things taken might be used as evidence against him, held that the things seized when the office and furniture were explored did not belong to the same class, referred to "the firmly rooted proposition that what are called general exploratory searches throughout premises and personal property are forbidden," and said that it did not matter

whether the articles of personal property

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opened and the contents examined are numerous or few, the right of personal security, liberty and private property is violated if the search is general, for nothing specific, but for whatever the containers may hide from view, and is based only on the eagerness of officers to get hold of whatever evidence they may be able to bring to light. . . . Such a search and seizure as these officers indulged themselves in is not like that in Marron v. United States . . . , where things openly displayed to view were picked up by the officers and taken away at the time an arrest was made. The decision that does control is Go-Bart Co. v. United States, 282 U.S. 344. Indeed, this case differs in its essential facts from that one so slightly that what is said in that opinion in characterizing the search made will apply with...

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