342 U.S. 48 (1951), 3, United States v. Jeffers

Docket Nº:No. 3
Citation:342 U.S. 48, 72 S.Ct. 93, 96 L.Ed. 59
Party Name:United States v. Jeffers
Case Date:November 13, 1951
Court:United States Supreme Court

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342 U.S. 48 (1951)

72 S.Ct. 93, 96 L.Ed. 59

United States



No. 3

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 13, 1951

Argued October 15, 1951




1. Without a warrant for search or arrest, but with reason to believe that respondent had narcotics unlawfully concealed there, officers entered the hotel room of respondent's aunts, in their absence and in the absence of respondent, searched it, and seized narcotics claimed by respondent. The search and seizure were not incident to a valid arrest; and there were no exceptional circumstances to justify their being made without a warrant.

Held: The seizure violated the Fourth Amendment; and, on respondent's motion, the narcotics so seized should have been excluded as evidence in his trial for violation of the narcotics laws. Pp. 49-54.

(a) That the evidence seized in these circumstances was not on respondent's premises, did not deprive him of standing to suppress it. Pp. 51-52.

(b) Nor is a different result required by the provision of 26 U.S.C. § 3116 that "no property rights shall exist" in such contraband goods. Pp. 52-54.

2. Since the evidence illegally seized was contraband, the respondent was not entitled to have it returned to him. P. 54.

88 U.S.App.D.C. 58, 187 F.2d 498, affirmed.

In the District Court, respondent's motion to suppress evidence seized without a warrant was denied, and he was convicted of violating the narcotics laws, 26 U.S.C. § 2553(a) and 21 U.S.C. §174. The Court of Appeals reversed. 88 U.S.App.D.C. 58, 187 F.2d 498. This Court granted certiorari. 340 U.S. 951. Affirmed, p. 54.

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CLARK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Here we are faced with troublesome questions as to the exclusion from evidence, on motion of the accused, of contraband narcotics claimed by him which were seized on the premises of other persons in the course of a search without a warrant. On the basis of the seized narcotics, the accused, respondent here, was convicted of violation of the narcotics laws, 26 U.S.C. § 2553(a) and 21 U.S.C. § 174.1 Prior to trial, the District Court had denied respondent's motion to suppress, as evidence at the trial, the property seized. The Court of Appeals reversed the conviction by a divided court, 88 U.S.App.D.C. 58, 187 F.2d 498. Since a determination of the question is important in the administration of criminal justice, we brought the case here. 340 U.S. 951.

The evidence showed that one Roberts came to the Dunbar Hotel in the District of Columbia on Monday,

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September 12, 1949, at about 3 p.m., sought out the house detective, Scott, and offered him $500 to let him into a room in the hotel occupied by respondent's two aunts, the Misses Jeffries. Roberts told Scott that respondent had "some stuff stashed" in the room. The house detective told Roberts to call back later in the evening and he would see about it. He then immediately reported the incident to Lieut. Karper, in charge of the narcotics squad of the Metropolitan Police, who came to the hotel about 4 p.m. Karper went with Scott to the room occupied by the Misses Jeffries. When there was no answer to their knock on the door, the two officers then went to the assistant manager and obtained a key to the room. Although neither officer had either a search or an arrest warrant, they unlocked the door, entered the room and, in the absence of the Misses Jeffries as well as the respondent, proceeded to conduct a detailed search thereof. On the top shelf of a closet they discovered a pasteboard box containing 19 bottles of cocaine, of which only two had U.S. tax stamps attached, and one bottle of codeine, also without stamps. The bottles were seized and taken to Scott's office, where Lieut. Karper telephoned the federal narcotics agent and, upon the latter's arrival, turned the seized articles over to him. Respondent was arrested [72 S.Ct. 95] the following day on the charges before us, at which time he claimed ownership of the narcotics seized.

It appeared from the evidence at the pretrial hearing that the Misses Jeffries had given respondent a key to their room, that he had their permission to use the room at will, and that he often entered the room for various purposes. They had not given him permission to store narcotics there, and had no knowledge that any were so stored. The hotel records reflected that the room was assigned to and paid for by them alone.

We agree with the Court of Appeals that the seizure was made in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and, on

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motion of respondent, its fruits should have been excluded as evidence on his trial.

The Fourth Amendment2 prohibits both unreasonable searches and unreasonable seizures, and its protection extends to both "houses" and "effects." Over and again this Court has emphasized that the mandate of the Amendment requires adherence to judicial processes. See Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1914); Agnello v. United States, 269 U.S. 20 (1925). Only where incident to a valid arrest, United States v. Rabinowitz, 339 U.S. 56 (1950), or in "exceptional circumstances," Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10 (1948), may an exemption lie, and then the burden is on those seeking the exemption to show the need for it, McDonald v. United States, ...

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