394 U.S. 244 (1969), 12, Desist v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 12
Citation:394 U.S. 244, 89 S.Ct. 1030, 22 L.Ed.2d 248
Party Name:Desist v. United States
Case Date:March 24, 1969
Court:United States Supreme Court

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394 U.S. 244 (1969)

89 S.Ct. 1030, 22 L.Ed.2d 248



United States

No. 12

United States Supreme Court

March 24, 1969

Argued November 12, 1968




The decision in Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, which held that the reach of the Fourth Amendment "cannot turn upon the presence or absence of a physical intrusion into any given enclosure," and that every electronic eavesdropping upon private conversations is a search and seizure which, as a general rule, can comply with constitutional standards only when authorized by a magistrate on a showing of probable cause under precise limitations and safeguards, to the extent that it departed from previous holdings of the Court, is to be applied prospectively only. Pp. 246-254.

384 F.2d 889, affirmed.

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioners were convicted by a jury in the District Court for the Southern District of New York of conspiring to import and conceal heroin in violation of the federal narcotics laws.1 An important part of the Government's

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evidence consisted of tape recordings of conversations among several of the petitioners in a New York City hotel room. The tapes were made by federal officers in the adjoining room by means of an electronic recording device which did not physically intrude into the petitioners' room.2 Because there was no "trespass" or "actual intrusion into a constitutionally protected

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area," the District Court and the Court of Appeals rejected the petitioners' argument that this evidence was inadmissible because the eavesdropping had violated their rights under the Fourth Amendment. The convictions were affirmed,3 and we granted certiorari to consider the constitutional questions thus presented.4

Last Term in Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, we held that the reach of the Fourth Amendment "cannot turn upon the presence or absence of a physical intrusion into any given enclosure." Id. at 353. Noting that the "Fourth Amendment protects people, not places," id. at 351, we overruled cases holding that a search and seizure of speech requires some trespass or actual penetration of a particular enclosure. We concluded that, since every electronic eavesdropping upon private conversations is a search or seizure, it can comply with constitutional standards only when authorized by a neutral magistrate upon a showing of probable cause and under precise limitations and appropriate safeguards. The eavesdropping in this case was not carried out pursuant to such a warrant, and the convictions must therefore be reversed if Katz is to be applied to electronic surveillance conducted before the date of that decision. We have concluded, however, that, to the extent Katz departed from previous holdings of this Court, it should be given wholly prospective application. Accordingly, and because we find no merit in any of the petitioners' other challenges to their convictions, we affirm the judgment before us.5

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We are met at the outset with the petitioners' contention that Katz does not actually present a choice between prospective or retroactive application of new constitutional doctrine. The Court in that decision, it is said, did not depart from any existing interpretation of the Constitution, but merely confirmed the previous demise of obsolete decisions enunciating the distinction between "trespassory" searches and those in which there was no physical penetration of the protected premises. Goldman v. United States, 316 U.S. 129; Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438.6 But this contention misconstrues our opinion in Katz. Our holding there that Goldman

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and Olmstead "can no longer be regarded as controlling," 389 U.S. at 353, recognized that those decisions had not been overruled until that day.7 True, the principles they expressed had been modified. The belief that an oral conversation could not be the object of a "search" or "seizure" had not survived.8 And in Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505, we had cautioned that the scope of the Fourth Amendment could not be ascertained by resort to the "ancient niceties of tort or real property law." 365 U.S. at 511. But the assumption persisted that electronic surveillance did not offend the Constitution unless there was an "actual intrusion into a constitutionally protected area."9 While decisions before Katz may have reflected growing dissatisfaction with the traditional tests of the constitutional validity of electronic surveillance,10 the Court consistently reiterated those tests and declined invitations to abandon them.11 However clearly our holding in Katz may have been foreshadowed, it was a clear break with the past, and we are thus compelled to decide whether its application should be limited to the future.

Ever since Linkletter v. Walker, 381 U.S. 618, 629, established that "the Constitution neither prohibits nor requires retrospective effect" for decisions expounding

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new constitutional rules affecting criminal trials, the Court has viewed the retroactivity or nonretroactivity of such decisions as a function of three considerations. As we most recently summarized them in Stovall v. Denno, 388 U.S. 293, 297,

The criteria guiding resolution of the question implicate (a) the purpose to be served by the new standards, (b) the extent of the reliance by law enforcement authorities on the old standards, and (c) the effect on the administration of justice of a retroactive application of the new standards.12

Foremost among these factors is the purpose to be served by the new constitutional rule.13 This criterion strongly supports prospectivity for a decision amplifying the evidentiary exclusionary rule. Thus, it was principally the Court's assessment of the purpose of Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, which led it in Linkletter to deny those finally convicted the benefit of Mapp's extension of the exclusionary rule to the States:

all of the cases . . . requiring the exclusion of illegal evidence have been based on the necessity for an effective deterrent to illegal police action. . . . We cannot say that this purpose would be advanced by making the rule retrospective. The misconduct of the police . . . has already occurred and will not be corrected by releasing the prisoners involved.

381 U.S. at 636-637.14

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We further observed that, in contrast with decisions which had been accorded retroactive effect,15 "there is no likelihood of unreliability or coercion present in a search and seizure case"; the exclusionary rule is but a "procedural weapon that has no bearing on guilt," and "the fairness of the trial is not under attack." 381 U.S. at 638, 639. Following this reasoning of Linkletter, we recently held in Fuller v. Alaska, 393 U.S. 80, that the exclusionary rule of Lee v. Florida, 392 U.S. 378, should be accorded only prospective application. Analogizing Lee to Mapp, we concluded that evidence seized in violation of § 605 of the Federal Communications Act16 was "no less relevant and reliable than that seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment," and that both decisions were merely "designed to enforce the federal law." 393 U.S. at 81.

The second and third factors -- reliance of law enforcement officials and the burden on the administration of justice that would flow from a retroactive application -- also militate in favor of applying Katz prospectively. Katz for the first time explicitly overruled the "physical penetration" and "trespass" tests enunciated in earlier decisions of this Court. Our periodic restatements of those tests confirmed the interpretation that police and courts alike had placed on the controlling precedents and

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fully justified reliance on their continuing validity. Nor had other courts theretofore held that the prohibitions of the Fourth Amendment encompassed "nontrespassory" electronic surveillance. On the contrary, only a few months before the eavesdropping in this case, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit had upheld the introduction of electronic evidence obtained by the same narcotics agent with a virtually identical installation. United States v. Pardo-Bolland, 348 F.2d 316, cert. denied, 382 U.S. 944.

Although there apparently have not been many federal convictions based on evidence gathered by warrantless electronic surveillance,17 we have no cause to doubt that the number of state convictions obtained in reliance on pre-Katz decisions is substantial.18 Moreover, the determination of whether a particular instance of eavesdropping led to the introduction of tainted evidence at trial would in most cases be a difficult and time-consuming task, which, particularly when attempted long after the event, would impose a weighty burden on any court. Cf. Alderman v. United States, ante at 180-185. It is to be noted also that we have relied heavily on the factors of the extent of reliance and consequent burden on the administration of justice only when the purpose of the rule in question did not clearly favor either retroactivity or prospectivity.19 Because the deterrent purpose of Katz overwhelmingly supports nonretroactivity, we

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would reach that result even if relatively few convictions would be set aside by its retroactive application.

The petitioners argue that, even if Katz is not given fully retrospective effect, at least it should govern those cases which, like the petitioners', were pending on direct review when Katz was decided. Petitioners point out that, in Linkletter, the only other case involving the retroactivity of a Fourth Amendment decision, the Court held Mapp applicable to every case still pending on direct review on the date of that decision. A similar approach was adopted in Tehan v. Shott, 382 U.S. 406, with respect to the prospectivity of Griffin v. California, ...

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