332 U.S. 581 (1948), 61, United States v. Di Re

Docket Nº:No. 61
Citation:332 U.S. 581, 68 S.Ct. 222, 92 L.Ed. 210
Party Name:United States v. Di Re
Case Date:January 05, 1948
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 581

332 U.S. 581 (1948)

68 S.Ct. 222, 92 L.Ed. 210

United States


Di Re

No. 61

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 5, 1948

Argued October 17, 1947




1. Respondent and an informer were in an automobile, the driver of which was suspected of selling counterfeit gasoline ration coupons. When approached by federal and New York state officers, the informer had counterfeit gasoline ration coupons in his hand and stated that he had obtained them from the driver. Without previous information implicating respondent, and without a warrant, the state officer arrested respondent and the driver, but did not search the car or state the charge on which respondent was arrested. At the police station, respondent was searched and counterfeit gasoline ration coupons were found on his person. On the evidence thus obtained, respondent was convicted of possession of counterfeit gasoline ration coupons in violation of § 301 of the Second War Powers Act.

Held: the search was unlawful, and the conviction cannot be sustained. Pp. 583-595.

(a) Assuming, arguendo, that there was reasonable cause for search of the automobile as a vehicle believed to be carrying contraband, this did not justify a search of the person of respondent. Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, distinguished. Pp. 583-587.

(b) It was not justified as incident to a lawful arrest, since the arrest was not lawful under New York law, which is controlling in this case. Pp. 587-595.

2. By mere presence in a suspected automobile, a person does not lose immunities from search of his person to which he otherwise would be entitled. P. 587.

3. In the absence of an applicable federal statute, the law of the state where an arrest without warrant takes place determines its validity. P. 589.

4. No federal statute controls the validity of an arrest without warrant in a case such as this. Pp. 590-591.

5. In the circumstances of this case, the mere presence of respondent in the car did not authorize an inference of participation in a conspiracy violative of § 37 of the Criminal Code. Pp. 593-594.

6. Probable cause for arrest may not be inferred from the fact that the person arrested does not protest or resist arrest or assert his innocence to the arresting officer. It is the right of one placed under

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arrest to submit to custody and reserve his defenses for the neutral tribunals erected by the law for the purpose of judging his case. Pp. 594-595.

7. A search is not made legal by what it turns up; in law, it is good or bad when it starts, and does not change character from its success. P. 595.

8. That law enforcement may be made more difficult is no justification for disregarding the constitutional prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. P. 595.

159 F.2d 818 affirmed.

Respondent was convicted in a federal district court of possessing counterfeit gasoline ration coupons contrary to § 301 of the Second War Powers Act. The Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. 159 F.2d 818. This Court granted certiorari. 331 U.S. 800. Affirmed, p. 595.

JACKSON, J., lead opinion

[68 S.Ct. 223] MR. JUSTICE JACKSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

Michael Di Re was convicted on a charge of knowingly possessing counterfeit gasoline ration coupons in violation of § 301 of the Second War Powers Act, 1942.1 The decisive evidence was that obtained by search of his person after he was arrested without a warrant of any kind. The Circuit Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, 159 F.2d 818, considered that any question as to the timeliness of his objection to this evidence was eliminated by its disposition on its merits by the District Court, and, one judge dissenting, it held both his search and arrest to have been illegal.

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The Government was granted certiorari,2 raising no question other than the correctness of the holding by the Court of Appeals that the evidence was the fruit of an illegal arrest and search.

An investigator of the Office of Price Administration was informed by one Reed that he was to buy counterfeit gasoline ration coupons from a certain Buttitta at a named place in the City of Buffalo, New York. The investigator and a detective from the Buffalo Police Department trailed Buttitta's car and finally came upon it parked at the appointed place. They went to the car and found the informer Reed, the only occupant of the rear seat, holding in his hand two gasoline ration coupons which later proved to be counterfeit. Reed, on being asked, said he obtained them from Buttitta, who was sitting in the driver's seat. Beside Buttitta sat Di Re. All three were taken into custody, "frisked" to make sure they had no weapons, and were then taken to the police station. Here Di Re complied with a direction to put the contents of his pockets on a table. Two gasoline and several fuel oil ration coupons were laid out. He said he had found them in the street. About two hours later, after questioning, he was "booked" and thoroughly searched. One hundred inventory gasoline ration coupons were found in an envelope concealed between his shirt and underwear. These, as well as the gasoline coupons earlier disclosed, proved to be counterfeit. Their introduction as evidence, over the objection of the defendant, was held by the court below to require reversal of the conviction.3


The Government now defends the search upon alternative grounds: 1, that search of Di Re was justified as

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incident to a lawful arrest; 2, that search of his person was justified as incident to search of a vehicle reasonably believed to be carrying contraband. We consider the second ground first.

The claim is that officers have the rights, without a warrant, to search any car which they have reasonable cause to believe carries contraband, and incidentally may search any occupant of such car when the contraband sought is of a character that might be concealed on the person. This contention calls, first, for a determination as to whether the circumstances gave a right to search this car.

The belief that an automobile is more vulnerable to search without warrant than is other property has its source in the decision of Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132. That search was made, and its validity was upheld, under the search and seizure provisions enacted for enforcement of the National Prohibition Act, and of that Act alone. Transportation of liquor in violation of that Act subjected first the liquor, and then the vehicle in which it was found, to seizure and confiscation, and the person "in charge thereof" to arrest.4 [68 S.Ct. 224] The Court reviewed

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the legislative history of enforcement legislation and concluded (at p. 147),

The intent of Congress to make a distinction between the necessity for a search warrant in the searching of private dwellings and in that of automobiles and other road vehicles in5 the enforcement of the Prohibition Act is thus clearly established by the legislative history of the Stanley Amendment. Is such a distinction consistent with the Fourth Amendment? We think that it is. The Fourth Amendment does not denounce all searches or seizures, but only such as are unreasonable.

The progeny of the Carroll case likewise dealt with searches and seizures under this Act. Husty v. United States, 282 U.S. 694.

Obviously the Court should be reluctant to decide that a search thus authorized by Congress was unreasonable, and that the Act was therefore unconstitutional. In view of the strong presumption of constitutionality due to an Act of Congress, especially when it turn on what is "reasonable," the Carroll decision falls short of establishing a doctrine that, without such legislation, automobiles nonetheless are subject to search without warrant in enforcement of all federal statutes. This Court has never yet said so. The most that can be said is that some of the language by which the Court justified the search and seizure legislation in the Carroll case might be used to make a distinction between what is a reasonable search as applied to an automobile and as applied to a residence or fixed premises, even in absence of legislation.

We need not decide whether, without such Congressional authorization as was found controlling in the Carroll

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case, any automobile is subject to search without warrant on reasonable cause to believe it contains contraband. In the case before us, there appears to have been no search of the car itself. No one on the spot seems to have thought there was cause for searching it, or that it was subject to forfeiture. The nature of ration tickets, the contraband involved, was not such that a car would be necessary or advantageous in carrying them except as an incident of carrying the person. When the question of admissibility of this evidence arose in the trial court, counsel for the Government made no claim that there had been search or cause for search of the car. No question of fact concerning such a claim has been resolved by the trial court or the jury.

Assuming, however, without deciding, that there was reasonable cause for searching the car, did it confer an incidental right to search Di Re? It is admitted by the Government that there is no authority to that effect, either in the statute or in precedent decision of this Court, but we are asked to extend the assumed right of car search to include the person of occupants because

common sense demands that such rights exist in a case such as this where the contraband sought is a small article which could easily be concealed on the person.

[68 S.Ct. 225] This argument points up the different relation of the automobile to the crime in the Carroll case than in the one before us. An automobile, as was there pointed out, was an almost indispensable instrumentality in large-scale violation of the National Prohibition Act, and the car itself...

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