339 U.S. 56 (1950), 293, United States v. Rabinowitz

Docket Nº:No. 293
Citation:339 U.S. 56, 70 S.Ct. 430, 94 L.Ed. 653
Party Name:United States v. Rabinowitz
Case Date:February 20, 1950
Court:United States Supreme Court

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339 U.S. 56 (1950)

70 S.Ct. 430, 94 L.Ed. 653

United States



No. 293

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 20, 1950

Argued January 11, 1950




1. Knowing that respondent had sold four forged postage stamps to a government agent and probably possessed many more in his one-room place of business which was open to the public, officers obtained a warrant for his arrest; but they did not obtain a search warrant. They arrested him in his place of business, searched the desk, safe, and file cabinets, and seized 573 forged stamps. He was indicted for possessing and concealing the stamps so seized and for selling the four that had been purchased. The seized stamps were admitted in evidence over his objection, and he was convicted on both counts.

Held: The search and seizure were incident to a lawful arrest, they were not unreasonable, and they did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 57-66.

(a) What is a reasonable search is not to be determined by any fixed formula. The recurring questions of the reasonableness of searches must find resolution in the facts and circumstances of each case. P. 63.

(b) Here, the search and seizure were reasonable because: (1) they were incident to a valid arrest; (2) the place of the search was a business room to which the public, including the officers, was invited; (3) the room was small, and under the immediate and complete control of respondent; (4) the search did not extend beyond the room used for unlawful purposes; and (5) the possession of the forged stamps was a crime. Pp. 63-64.

2. Trupiano v. United States, 334 U.S. 699, overruled to the extent that it requires a search warrant solely upon the basis of the practicability of procuring it, rather than upon the reasonableness of the search after a lawful arrest. Pp. 65-66.

176 F.2d 732, reversed.

Respondent was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. (1946 ed.) §§ 265, 268. The Court of Appeals reversed. 176 F.2d 732. This Court granted certiorari. 338 U.S. 884. Reversed, p. 66.

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MINTON, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE MINTON delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent was convicted of selling and of possessing and concealing forged and altered obligations of the United States with intent to defraud. The question presented here is the reasonableness of a search without a search warrant of a place of business consisting of a one-room office, incident to a valid arrest.

On February 1, 1943, a printer who possessed plates for forging "overprints" on canceled stamps was taken into custody. He disclosed that respondent, a dealer in stamps, was one of the customers to whom he had delivered large numbers of stamps bearing forged overprints.1 On Saturday, February 6, 1943, with this information concerning respondent and his activities in the hands of Government officers, a postal employee was sent to respondent's place of business to buy stamps bearing overprints. He bought four stamps. On Monday, February 8, the stamps were sent to an expert to determine whether the overprints were genuine. On February 9, the report was received showing the overprints to be forgeries, having been placed upon the stamps after cancellation, and not before, as was the Government's practice. On February 11, a further statement was obtained

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from the printer who had made the overprints. On February 16, 1943, a warrant for the arrest of respondent was obtained.

In 1941, respondent had been convicted and sentenced to three months' imprisonment on a plea of guilty to a two-count indictment charging the alteration of obligations of the United States, that is, of overprinting Government postage stamps, and the possession of a plate from which a similitude of a United States obligation had been printed. Thus, when the warrant for arrest was obtained, the officers had reliable information that respondent was an old offender, that he had sold four forged and altered stamps to an agent of the Government, and that he probably possessed several thousand altered stamps bearing forged overprints. While the warrant of arrest was not put in evidence, it contained, as a Government witness testified on cross-examination, authority to arrest for more than the sale of the four stamps; it covered all the Government officers' information.2

Armed with this valid warrant for arrest, the Government officers, accompanied [70 S.Ct. 432] by two stamp experts, went to respondent's place of business, a one-room office open to the public. The officers thereupon arrested the respondent,

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and, over his objection, searched the desk, safe, and file cabinets in the office for about an hour and a half. They found and seized 573 stamps on which it was later determined that overprints had been forged, along with some other stamps which were subsequently returned to respondent.

Respondent was indicted on two counts. He was charged in count one with selling four forged and altered stamps, knowing they were forged and altered and with the intent that they be passed as genuine.3 The second count charged that he did keep in his possession and conceal, with intent to defraud, the 573 forged and altered stamps.4

Respondent made timely motions for suppression and to strike the evidence pertaining to the 573 stamps, all of which were eventually denied. Respondent was convicted on both counts after trial before a jury in which he offered no evidence. Relying on Trupiano v. United States, 334 U.S. 699, the Court of Appeals, one judge dissenting, reversed on the ground that, since the officers had had time in which to procure a search warrant and had failed to do so, the search was illegal, and the evidence therefore should have been excluded. 176 F.2d 732. We granted certiorari to determine the validity of the search because of the question's importance in the administration of the law of search and seizure. 338 U.S. 884.

Were the 573 stamps, the fruits of this search, admissible in evidence? If legally obtained, these stamps were competent evidence to show intent under the first count of the indictment, and they were the very things the possession of which was the crime charged in the second count.

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The Fourth Amendment provides:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

It is unreasonable searches that are prohibited by the Fourth Amendment. Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 147. It was recognized by the framers of the Constitution that there were reasonable searches for which no warrant was required. The right of the "people to be secure in their persons" was certainly of as much concern to the framers of the Constitution as the property of the person. Yet no one questions the right, without a search warrant, to search the person after a valid arrest. The right to search the person incident to arrest always has been recognized in this country and in England. Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 392. Where one had been placed in the custody of the law by valid action of officers, it was not unreasonable to search him.

Of course, a search without warrant incident to an arrest is dependent initially on a valid arrest. Here, the officers had a warrant for respondent's arrest which was, as far as can be ascertained, broad enough to cover the crime of possession charged in the second count, and consequently respondent was properly arrested. Even if the warrant of arrest were [70 S.Ct. 433] not sufficient to authorize the arrest for possession of the stamps, the arrest therefor was valid because the officers had probable cause to believe that a felony was being committed in their very presence. Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 156-157.

The arrest was therefore valid in any event, and respondent's person could be lawfully searched. Could the

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officers search his desk, safe and file cabinets, all within plain sight of the parties, and all located under respondent's immediate control in his one-room office open to the public?

Decisions of this Court have often recognized that there is a permissible area of search beyond the person proper. Thus, in Agnello v. United States, 269 U.S. 20, 30, this Court stated:

The right without a search warrant contemporaneously to search persons lawfully arrested while committing crime and to search the place where the arrest is made in order to find and seize things connected with the crime as its fruits or as the means by which it was committed, as well as weapons and other things to effect an escape from custody, is not to be doubted.

The right

to search the place where the arrest is made in order to find and seize things connected with the crime as its fruits or as the means by which it was committed

seems to have stemmed not only from the acknowledged authority to search the person, but also from the longstanding practice of searching for other proofs of guilt within the control of the accused found upon arrest. Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 392. It became accepted that the premises where the arrest was made, which premises were under the control of the person arrested and where the crime was being committed, were subject to search without a search warrant. Such a search was not "unreasonable." Agnello v. United States, 269 U.S. 20, 30; Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 158; Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 623-624.

In Marron v. United States, 275 U.S. 192, the officers had a warrant to search for liquor, but the warrant did not describe a certain ledger and invoices pertaining to the operation of the business. The latter were seized during the...

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