344 U.S. 199 (1952), 41, Schwartz v. Texas

Docket Nº:No. 41
Citation:344 U.S. 199, 73 S.Ct. 232, 97 L.Ed. 231
Party Name:Schwartz v. Texas
Case Date:December 15, 1952
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 199

344 U.S. 199 (1952)

73 S.Ct. 232, 97 L.Ed. 231




No. 41

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 15, 1952

Argued November 12, 1952



Section 605 of the Federal Communications Act, which provides that "no person not being authorized by the sender shall intercept any communication and divulge or publish" the contents thereof to any person, and which has been construed to render such intercepted communications inadmissible as evidence in federal courts, does not exclude such intercepted communications from evidence in criminal proceedings in state courts. Pp. 199-204.

___ Tex.Cr.R. ___, 246 S.W.2d 174, affirmed.

Petitioner was convicted in a Texas state court as an accomplice to the crime of robbery, upon evidence obtained by wiretapping. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas upheld the conviction. ___ Tex.Cr.R. ___, 246 S.W.2d 174, rehearing denied, ___ Tex.Cr.R. ___, 246 S.W.2d 179. This Court granted certiorari. 343 U.S. 975. Affirmed, p. 204.

MINTON, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE MINTON delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner, Schwartz, a pawnbroker, entered into a conspiracy with Jarrett and Bennett whereby the latter two were to rob places to be designated by Schwartz and

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bring the loot to him to dispose of and divide the proceeds with them. Pursuant to the plan, Jarrett and Bennett robbed a woman in Dallas, Texas, of her valuable jewels and brought the loot to the petitioner. After the petitioner repeatedly delayed settlement with the robbers, the thieves finally fell out, which proved very helpful to the police. The petitioner tipped off the police where they could find Jarrett. After Jarrett had been in jail about two weeks, he consented to telephone the petitioner from the sheriff's office. With the knowledge and consent of Jarrett, a professional operator set up an induction coil connected to a recorder amplifier which enabled the operator to overhear and simultaneously to record the telephone conversations between Jarrett and the petitioner. These records were used as evidence before the jury that tried and convicted the petitioner as an accomplice to the crime of robbery. The records, admitted only after Jarrett and the petitioner had [73 S.Ct. 234] testified, corroborated Jarrett and discredited the petitioner. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas upheld the conviction, ___ Tex.Cr.R. ___, 246 S.W.2d 174, rehearing denied, ___ Tex.Cr.R. ___, 246 S.W.2d 179. We granted certiorari, 343 U.S. 975.

Petitioner contends that § 605 of the Federal Communications Act1 makes inadmissible in evidence the records of intercepted telephone conversations without the petitioner's consent. The pertinent provision of the statute reads as follows:

. . . 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. . . .

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Section 501 of 47 U.S.C. provides a penalty for the violation of § 605.

We are dealing here only with the application of a federal statute to state proceedings. Without deciding, but assuming for the purposes of this case, that the telephone communications were intercepted without being authorized by the sender within the meaning of the Act, the question we have is whether these communications are barred by the federal statute, § 605, from use as evidence in a criminal proceeding in a state court.

We think not. Although the statute contains no reference to the admissibility of evidence obtained by wiretapping, it has been construed to render inadmissible in a court of the United States communications intercepted and sought to be divulged in violation thereof, Nardone v. United States, 302 U.S. 379, and this is true even though the communications were intrastate telephone calls. Weiss v. United States, 308 U.S. 321, 329. Although the intercepted calls would be inadmissible in a federal court, it does not follow that such evidence is inadmissible in a state court. Indeed, evidence obtained by a state officer by means which would constitute an unlawful search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the Federal Constitution is nonetheless admissible in a state court, Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25, while such evidence, if obtained by a federal officer, would be clearly inadmissible in a federal court. Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383. The problem under § 605 is somewhat different, because the introduction of the intercepted communications would itself be a violation of the statute, but, in the absence of an expression by Congress, this is simply an additional factor for a state to consider in formulating a rule of evidence for use in its own courts. Enforcement of the statutory prohibition in § 605 can be achieved under the penal provisions of § 501.

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This question has been many times before the state courts, and they have uniformly held that § 605 does not apply to exclude such communications from evidence in state courts. Leon v. State, 180 Md. 279, 23 A.2d 706; People v. Stemmer, 298 N.Y. 728, 83 N.E.2d 141; Harlem Check Cashing Corp. v. Bell, 296 N.Y. 15, 68 N.E.2d...

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