316 U.S. 114 (1942), 256, Goldstein v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 256
Citation:316 U.S. 114, 62 S.Ct. 1000, 86 L.Ed. 1312
Party Name:Goldstein v. United States
Case Date:April 27, 1942
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 114

316 U.S. 114 (1942)

62 S.Ct. 1000, 86 L.Ed. 1312



United States

No. 256

United States Supreme Court

April 27, 1942

Argued February 6, 1942




Section 605 of the Federal Communications Act does not render inadmissible in a criminal trial in a federal court, testimony (otherwise admissible) of witnesses who were induced to testify by the use, in advance of the trial, of communications intercepted in violation of the Act, but to which communications the defendants were not parties. P. 117.

120 F.2d 485 affirmed.

Certiorari, 314 U.S. 588, to review the affirmance of convictions of using the mails to defraud and of conspiracy to do so.

ROBERTS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves the alleged violation of § 605 of the Federal Communications Act1 by the admission of testimony in a federal criminal trial. The importance of the

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questions presented, and a claimed conflict with our decisions, moved us to grant certiorari. 314 U.S. 588.

The petitioners and others were indicted under the mail fraud2 and conspiracy3 statutes. The alleged scheme was to defraud insurance companies by presenting false claims for disability benefits.

At the opening of the trial, the petitioners moved that the court suppress all records and transcripts of intercepted telephone messages; suppress all evidence the Government obtained by the use of such messages; suppress the testimony of any witness obtained in the first instance by the use of such messages, and that of any witness whose recollection had been refreshed or aided by such messages.

A preliminary hearing was conducted by the trial judge in accordance with the practice established in Nardone v. United States, 308 U.S. 338. The principal subject of contention was the prospective testimony of Messman and Garrow, alleged coconspirators who, the petitioners asserted, had confessed and turned state's evidence because they had been confronted with intercepted telephone messages. Messman and Garrow were parties to these messages, or some of them, but the petitioners were not.4 The judge ordered all records and transcripts of intercepted messages suppressed, as well as all evidence obtained as a result of such messages, but he refused to order suppression of the testimony of witnesses whose memories had been refreshed or aided thereby. He reserved to the trial final decision on so much of the motion

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as requested the suppression of testimony alleged to be the result of information derived from the messages.

At the trial. government witnesses testified that wiretapping had not furnished clues used in preparing the case. Messman and Garrow were permitted to testify to the facts of which they claimed to have knowledge, over the objection of petitioners. They did not refer to any intercepted messages or to their contents.

The petitioners were convicted, and the judgments were affirmed on appeal.5 The Circuit Court of Appeals held that the convictions ought not to stand if either Messman or Garrow should not have been allowed to testify. It thought that, the petitioners having proved divulgence by federal officers of the messages to the witnesses, the burden was upon the Government to prove that their testimony was not induced thereby; that the trial judge failed to find the wiretapping had not been a means of inducing them to testify, but found only that the petitioners had failed to prove it had been the means. In this situation, the court was of opinion that, if the admission of testimony induced by use of the messages was prohibited by the Communications Act, the judgments should be reversed. The court ruled, however, that, as the petitioners were not parties [62 S.Ct. 1002] to any of the intercepted communications, they had no standing to object to their divulgence. In the alternative, it ruled that the testimony was not a divulgence within the meaning of § 605, but, at most, the presentation in court of evidence procured through past divulgences. The court also overruled petitioners' contentions that they had been denied their full right of cross-examination at the preliminary hearing, and that the charge to the jury was improper.

We have considered all the assignments of error, but find no substance in any of them save those which go to the admission of Messman's and Garrow's testimony. In

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briefs and oral argument, the parties have labored the subject of the burden of proof at the preliminary hearing. The petitioners say it lay with the Government after a showing of wiretapping and divulgence; the respondent says it lay with the petitioners throughout. Each asserts the other failed to carry it. In our view, a decision upon the point is unnecessary.

We come to the capital and pivotal question: assuming the witnesses' testimony was induced by divulging to them the contents of intercepted telephone messages, was the admission of this testimony erroneous? We hold that it was not.

The petitioners assert that § 605 of the Federal Communications Act forbids the admission of evidence obtained by the use in advance of the trial of unlawfully intercepted telephone conversations, and that one who was not a party to such communications has standing to object to the admission of such evidence. They insist that the decisions of this court in Weiss v. United States, 308 U.S. 321, and Nardone v. United States, 308 U.S. 338, require us so to hold and that the court below, in ruling to the contrary, failed to follow those decisions.

It may be helpful in the consideration of these contentions to quote the relevant portions of the statute and to recapitulate this court's decisions in cases involving the admission of evidence in alleged violation of its terms. The relevant provisions of the section declare that

. . . no person not being authorized by the sender shall intercept any communication and divulge or publish the existence, contents, substance, purport, effect, or meaning of such intercepted communication to any person,

and that

no person having received such intercepted communication or having become acquainted with the contents, substance, purport, effect, or meaning of the same or any part thereof, knowing that such information was so obtained, shall divulge or publish the existence, contents,

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substance, purport, effect, or meaning of the same or any part thereof, or use the same or any information therein contained for his own benefit or for the benefit of another not entitled thereto. . . .

In Nardone v. United States, 302 U.S. 379, we held that the Government's introduction of transcripts and recordings of intercepted interstate messages in the trial of a criminal case constituted a divulgence of such messages contrary to the express terms of the statute.

In Weiss v. United States, 308 U.S. 321, intrastate telephone communications were intercepted by federal agents, their contents were divulged to certain of the defendants, and, as a result, these defendants confessed and agreed to turn state's evidence. They were permitted to testify to the contents of the messages. We held that the interdiction of the statute extended to the interception and divulgence of intrastate, as well as interstate, messages. In the light of the facts, we denied the Government's claim that the witnesses' testifying to the contents of the messages amounted to an authorization by them, as senders, of the divulgence of the communications within the meaning of the statute.

In Nardone v. United States, 308 U.S. 338, it was claimed that unlawfully intercepted messages had been used to obtain evidence against the senders, and that such use, and the introduction of the evidence so obtained over the objection of the senders, who were defendants, constituted a violation of the purpose and policy of the statute. We held that, if the facts sustained the claim, the evidence should have been excluded, and we formulated a procedure for ascertaining the facts.

[62 S.Ct. 1003] In none of these cases did this court pass upon the question now presented. In the instant case, the witnesses who confessed and turned state's evidence did not testify either to the existence of the communications or to their contents. The contents of messages to some of

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which they were parties, but to which the petitioners were not parties, were used by the Government, as we assume, to persuade the witnesses to testify. We further assume that the interception and divulgence of the messages to these witnesses was unlawful, because not authorized by the sender.

The petitioners urge that our decision in Weiss v. United States, supra, necessarily involved the ruling that one who was not a party to the intercepted messages has standing to object to their divulgence at the trial, and, in view of our application of the statute in Nardone v. United States, 308 U.S. 338, he has standing to object to testimony induced as a result of unlawful interception and use of the messages.

The question now presented was not decided in Weiss v. United States, supra. The charge was conspiracy. Goldstein, who was not a participant, and other defendants who were participants in the intercepted conversations were tried together. All objected to testimony respecting the conversations. We held the evidence inadmissible. The fact that Goldstein was not a party to the communications was not overlooked. In the opinion rendered by the Circuit Court of Appeals, it was held that the fact could not sustain his conviction if the messages were erroneously introduced.6 This court assumed, in deciding the case, that the Circuit Court of Appeals was right in holding that, if the admission of the evidence was wrong as to the other defendants, the

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judgment ought to be reversed as to all. And the Circuit Court of...

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