380 U.S. 693 (1965), 294, One 1958 Plymouth Sedan v. Pennsylvania

Docket Nº:No. 294
Citation:380 U.S. 693, 85 S.Ct. 1246, 14 L.Ed.2d 170
Party Name:One 1958 Plymouth Sedan v. Pennsylvania
Case Date:April 29, 1965
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 693

380 U.S. 693 (1965)

85 S.Ct. 1246, 14 L.Ed.2d 170

One 1958 Plymouth Sedan



No. 294

United States Supreme Court

April 29, 1965

Argued March 31, 1965



State liquor enforcement officers, without a warrant, stopped and searched an automobile which was "low in the rear, quite low," and found 31 cases of liquor therein. The State filed a petition for forfeiture of the car, which the trial judge, after finding that the officers acted without probable cause, dismissed on the ground that the forfeiture depended on the admission of illegally obtained evidence in violation of the Fourth Amendment as applied to the States by the Fourteenth. The State Supreme Court, without reviewing the finding of lack of probable cause, reversed on the basis that the exclusionary rule applies only to criminal prosecutions, and not to forfeitures, which it held are civil in nature.


1. Evidence which is obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment may not be relied on to sustain a forfeiture. Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, followed. Pp. 696-702.

(a) Statements in cases involving contraband per se, United States v. Jeffers, 342 U.S. 48, and Trupiano v. United States, 334 U.S. 699, distinguished. Pp. 698-699.

(b) A forfeiture, under the circumstances present here, is a penalty for a criminal offense, and can result in even greater punishment than the criminal prosecution. Pp. 700-702.

2. On remand, the State Supreme Court may review the trial court's finding of lack of probable cause for the search. P. 702.

414 Pa. 540, 201 A.2d 427, reversed and remanded.

Page 694

GOLDBERG, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE GOLDBERG delivered the opinion of the Court.

At approximately 6:30 a.m. on December 16, 1960, two law enforcement officers of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board stationed near Camden, New Jersey, at the approach to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, observed a 1958 Plymouth sedan bearing Pennsylvania license plates proceeding toward the bridge in the direction of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The officers, noting that "[t]he car was low in the rear, quite low," followed it across the bridge into Philadelphia. They stopped the automobile a short distance within the city, identified themselves, and questioned the owner, George McGonigle. The officers then searched the car and, in the rear and the trunk, found 31 cases of liquor not bearing Pennsylvania tax seals. The car and liquor were seized, and McGonigle was arrested and charged with violation of Pennsylvania law.1 The officers did not have either a search or arrest warrant.

Pursuant to a Pennsylvania statute,2 the Commonwealth filed a petition for forfeiture of the automobile.3 At the hearing, McGonigle, by timely objection, sought dismissal of the forfeiture petition on the ground that the forfeiture of the automobile depended upon the admission

Page 695

of evidence illegally obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution as applied to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment. The trial court sustained this position, and dismissed the forfeiture petition. In doing so, the trial judge made a specific finding that

[t]he seizure was founded upon evidence illegally obtained, since, under the [85 S.Ct. 1248] particular circumstances, the officers acted without probable cause.4

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania, an intermediate appellate court, by a 4-to-3 decision, reversed the order dismissing the petition and directed that the automobile be forfeited. 199 Pa.Super. 428, 186 A.2d 52. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the order of the Superior Court, one judge dissenting. 414 Pa. 540, 201 A.2d 427.

The basis of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision was that the exclusionary rule, which this Court, in Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 657, held "is an essential part of both the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments," applies only to criminal prosecutions and is not applicable in a forfeiture proceeding, which the Pennsylvania court deemed civil in nature. In light of this disposition of the case, the State Supreme Court did not review the trial court's finding of lack of probable cause, stating:

The thrust of the arguments, both of the appellant and the Commonwealth, is directed to the validity and propriety of the search and the subsequent seizure by the officers of this Plymouth automobile. In our view, such arguments are beyond the point. By reason of the nature of the present proceeding, i.e., a forfeiture procedure, we consider it unnecessary to determine the propriety and validity of the search and the seizure of this automobile.

414 Pa. at 542; 201 A.2d at 429.

Page 696

We granted certiorari, 379 U.S. 927, to consider the important question of whether the constitutional exclusionary rule enunciated in Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, and Mapp applies to forfeiture proceedings of the character involved here -- a question on which there has been conflict in both state and federal decisions.5 For the reasons set forth below, we hold that the constitutional exclusionary rule does apply to such forfeiture proceedings, and consequently reverse the judgment of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

As this Court has acknowledged, "[t]he leading case on the subject of search and seizure is Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616." Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 147. See Mapp v. Ohio, supra, at 646-647. Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, itself was not a criminal case, but was a proceeding by the United States to forfeit 35 cases of plate glass which had allegedly been imported without payment of the customs duty. The District Judge in the case entered an order compelling the owners of the plate glass to produce certain record which would aid the United States in proving its case for forfeiture. The question before the Court in Boyd was whether the compulsory production of a man's private papers for their evidentiary use against him in a proceeding to forfeit his property for alleged fraud against the revenue laws constituted an unreasonable search and seizure within the

Page 697

meaning of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. In holding that the Fourth Amendment applied and barred such attempted [85 S.Ct. 1249] seizure, Mr. Justice Bradley, for the Court stated:

We are also clearly of opinion that proceedings instituted for the purpose of declaring the forfeiture of a man's property by reason of offenses committed by him, though they may be civil in form, are in their nature criminal. In this very case, the ground of forfeiture, as declared in the twelfth section of the act of 1874, on which the information is based, consists of certain acts of fraud committed against the public revenue in relation to imported merchandise, which are made criminal by the statute; and it is declared, that the offender shall be fined not exceeding $5,000, nor less than $50, or be imprisoned not exceeding two years, or both; and, in addition to such fine, such merchandise shall be forfeited. These are the penalties affixed to the criminal acts, the forfeiture sought by this suit being one of them. If an indictment had been presented against the claimants, upon conviction, the forfeiture of the goods could have been included in the judgment. If the government prosecutor elects to waive an indictment and to file a civil information against the claimants -- that is, civil in form -- can he, by this device, take from the proceeding its criminal aspect and deprive the claimants of their immunities as citizens, and extort from them a production of their private papers, or, as an alternative, a confession of guilt? This cannot be. The information, though technically a civil proceeding, is in substance and effect a criminal one. . . . As, therefore, suits for penalties and forfeitures incurred by the commission of offenses against the law are of this quasi-criminal nature, we think that they are within the reason of criminal proceedings for all

Page 698

the purposes of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. . . .

Boyd v. United States, supra, at 633-634.

This authoritative statement and the holding by the Court in Boyd that the Government could not seize evidence in violation of the Fourth Amendment for use in a forfeiture proceeding would seem to be dispositive of this case. The Commonwealth, however, argues that Boyd is factually distinguishable, as it involved a subpoena sought by the Government for the production of evidence, whereas the issue here is the admissibility of illegally seized evidence already in the Government's possession. Although there is this factual difference between Boyd and the case at bar, nevertheless the basic holding of Boyd applies with equal, if not greater, force to the case before us. In both the Boyd situation and here, the essential question is whether evidence -- in Boyd, the books and records, here, the results of the search of the car -- the obtaining of which violates the Fourth Amendment may be relied upon to sustain a forfeiture. Boyd holds that it may not.

The Commonwealth further argues that Boyd's unequivocal statement that the Fourth Amendment applies to forfeiture proceedings as well as criminal prosecutions has been undermined by the statements of this Court in United States v. Jeffers, 342 U.S. 48, 54, and Trupiano v. United States, 334 U.S. 699, 710. Jeffers and Trupiano, unlike Boyd, were not forfeiture cases. They were federal criminal prosecutions. In both cases, the Court held that evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment was not admissible notwithstanding the fact that the evidence involved was contraband. By way of dictum, however, since the point was not before it, the Court stated in these cases that its ruling that the contraband was excludable as illegally seized did not mean that [85 S.Ct. 1250] the

Page 699

Government was required to...

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