370 U.S. 139 (1962), 236, Lanza v. New York

Docket Nº:No. 236
Citation:370 U.S. 139, 82 S.Ct. 1218, 8 L.Ed.2d 384
Party Name:Lanza v. New York
Case Date:June 04, 1962
Court:United States Supreme Court

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370 U.S. 139 (1962)

82 S.Ct. 1218, 8 L.Ed.2d 384



New York

No. 236

United States Supreme Court

June 4, 1962

Argued April 2, 1962



Petitioner was convicted in a state court of violating a state statute by willfully refusing to answer pertinent questions of a duly constituted legislative committee conducting an authorized legislative investigation, after he had been given immunity from prosecution. In this Court, he contended that his conviction violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because a conversation which he had with his brother in a public jail, where the latter was confined, was intercepted without their knowledge by state officials through an electronic listening device and a transcript of the conversation was used by the legislative committee in interrogating petitioner. The State's highest court certified that it had passed upon this claim and held that petitioner's constitutional rights were not violated. However, the record showed that at least two of the questions which petitioner was convicted of refusing to answer were not related in any way to the intercepted conversation, and refusal to answer either of these questions was sufficient to support the judgment.

Held: The constitutional claim asserted by petitioner is not tendered by the record in this case, and the judgment is affirmed. Pp. 139-147.

9 N.Y.2d 895, 175 N.E.2d 833, affirmed.

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

On February 13, 1957, the petitioner paid a visit to his brother, who was then confined in a New York jail. The two conversed in a room at the jail set aside for such visits. Six days later, the petitioner's brother was released from custody by order of one member of the State Parole

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Commission, under rather unusual circumstances.1 This prompted a committee of the New York Legislature to hold an investigation of possible corruption in the state parole system.2

During the course of the committee's investigation, the petitioner was called to testify. He appeared, accompanied by counsel. After granting the petitioner immunity from prosecution, as permitted by state law,3 the committee directed him to answer several questions. For refusing to answer these questions, the petitioner was indicted, tried and convicted under a provision of the criminal law of New York.4 His conviction was affirmed on review by the New York courts.5 We granted certiorari,

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368 U.S. 918, to consider the petitioner's claim that he could not constitutionally be punished for refusing to answer the questions put to him by the state legislative committee, because the conversation he had had with his brother in jail had been electronically intercepted and recorded by officials of the State, and a transcript of that conversation had furnished the basis of the committee's questions. For the reasons which follow, we hold that this constitutional claim is not valid, and we accordingly affirm the judgment before us.

The record does not make clear the precise circumstances under which the conversation in the jail between the petitioner and his brother was overheard and transcribed. The State concedes, however, that an electronic device was [82 S.Ct. 1220] installed in the room at the Westchester County Jail where the two conversed on February 13, 1957, that, without their knowledge, their conversation was thereby overheard and transcribed by jail officials, and that a transcript of the conversation was in the hands of the legislative committee when the petitioner was summoned to testify.

The petitioner has not questioned the power of the state legislative committee to conduct an investigation into whether the state parole system was being administered honestly and evenhandedly, nor has he questioned the good faith or propriety of the particular investigation which gave rise to the present case. His argument is simply that the interception of the jail conversation was a violation of those principles of the Fourth Amendment which have found recognition in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth, that it was accordingly impermissible for the state legislative committee to make use of the transcript of that conversation in interrogating him, and

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that New York therefore denied him due process of law by convicting him for refusing to answer the committee's questions.6

The Fourth Amendment specifically insures the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures," by federal officers. We may take it as settled that the Fourteenth Amendment gives to the people like protection against the conduct of the officials of any State. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643; Elkins v. United States, 364 U.S. 206; Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25.

The petitioner's argument thus necessarily begins with two assumptions: that the visitors' room of a public jail is a constitutionally protected area, and that surreptitious electronic eavesdropping under certain circumstances may amount to an unreasonable search or seizure. As to the second, there can be no doubt. This Court through the years has not taken a literal or mechanical approach to the question of what may constitute a search or seizure.7 And as recently as last Term, we specifically held that electronic eavesdropping by federal officers, accomplished by physical intrusion into the wall of a house, violated the

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Fourth Amendment rights of the occupants. Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505.

But to say that a public jail is the equivalent of a man's "house," or that it is a place where he can claim constitutional immunity from search or seizure of his person, his papers, or his effects, is, at best, a novel argument. To be sure, the Court has been far from niggardly in construing the physical scope of Fourth Amendment protection. A business office is a protected area,8 and so may be a store.9 A hotel room, in the eyes of the Fourth Amendment, may become a person's "house,"10 and so, of course, may an apartment.11 An automobile may not be unreasonably searched.12 Neither may an occupied taxicab.13 Yet, without attempting either to define or to predict the ultimate scope of Fourth Amendment protection, it is obvious that a jail shares none of the attributes of privacy of a home, an automobile, an office, or a hotel room. In prison, official surveillance has traditionally been the order of the day.14 Though it may be assumed that even

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in a jail, or perhaps especially there, the relationships which the law has endowed with particularized confidentiality must continue to receive unceasing protection,15 there is no claimed violation of any such special relationship here.

But even if we accept the premise that the room at the jail where the petitioner and his brother conversed was an area immunized by the Constitution from unreasonable search and seizure, and even though we put to one side questions as to the petitioner's standing to complain,16

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the petitioner's argument would still carry far beyond any decision which this [82 S.Ct. 1222] Court has yet rendered. The case before us bears no resemblance to such cases as Leyra v. Denno, 347 U.S. 556, where a State attempted to use as evidence in a criminal trial a confession which had been elicited by trickery from the defendant while he was in jail. See also Spano v. New York, 360 U.S. 315. We do not have here the introduction into a state criminal trial of evidence which is claimed to have been unconstitutionally seized, as in Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643. See Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165. Nor is this a case where it is claimed that the evidence actually offered at a trial was procured through knowledge gained from what had been unlawfully obtained -- the "fruit of the poisonous tree." Cf. Nardone v. United States, 308 U.S. 338.

Here, no such evidence was ever introduced in a prosecution against the petitioner. Rather, the petitioner was convicted for willfully refusing to answer the pertinent questions of a duly constituted legislative committee in the conduct of an authorized legislative investigation, after having been given immunity from prosecution. To hold that the petitioner could not constitutionally be convicted for refusing to answer such questions simply because they related to a conversation which had been unlawfully overheard by other state officials would thus be a completely unprecedented step.

The ultimate disposition of this case, however, does not demand consideration of whether such a step might ever be constitutionally required. For even if all the other doubtful issues should be resolved in the petitioner's favor, the record conclusively shows that at least two of the questions which the committee asked him were not related in any way to the intercepted conversation. The petitioner was asked to whom he had talked in February,

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1957, about releasing his brother on parole.17 He was asked to describe the efforts he had made to assist in obtaining his brother's release.18 Not only is it apparent on their face that these questions were not dependent upon the conversation overheard at the jail, but committee counsel unequivocally so testified at the petitioner's trial.19 Costello v. United States, 365 U.S. 265, 279-280. Refusal to answer either of these questions fully supports the judgment as modified by the New York courts.20 Whitfield v. Ohio, 297 U.S. 431, 438.

Moreover, the record contains no basis for supposing that the committee would not have called the petitioner to testify had it not been in possession of a transcript of the recorded jail conversation -- assuming, arguendo, that such an attenuated connection would help the petitioner's case. See Costello v. United States, supra. Indeed, it is reasonable to infer that...

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