411 U.S. 223 (1973), 71-6193, Brown v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 71-6193
Citation:411 U.S. 223, 93 S.Ct. 1565, 36 L.Ed.2d 208
Party Name:Brown v. United States
Case Date:April 17, 1973
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 223

411 U.S. 223 (1973)

93 S.Ct. 1565, 36 L.Ed.2d 208



United States

No. 71-6193

United States Supreme Court

April 17, 1973

Argued December 7, 1972




Petitioners were convicted of transporting and conspiring to transport stolen goods in interstate commerce to their coconspirator, whose retail store was searched under a defective warrant while petitioners were in custody in another State. The charges against petitioners were limited to acts committed before the day of the search. At a pretrial hearing on petitioners' motion to suppress evidence seized at the store, petitioners alleged no proprietary or possessory interest in the store or the goods, and the District Court denied their motion for lack of standing. At petitioners' trial, the seized goods were introduced into evidence. In addition, police testimony as to statements by petitioners implicating each other were introduced into evidence in a manner contrary to Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123. The Court of Appeals concluded that the Bruton error was harmless in view of overwhelming independent proof of guilt, and affirmed the District Court's ruling on standing.


1. Petitioners had no standing to contest the admission of the evidence seized under the defective warrant, since they alleged no legitimate expectation of privacy or interest of any kind in the premises searched or the goods seized; they had no "automatic" standing under Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257, as the case against them did not depend on possession of the seized evidence at the time of the contested search and seizure, and they could not vicariously assert the personal Fourth Amendment right of the store owner in contesting admission of the seized goods. Pp. 227-230.

2. The testimony erroneously admitted was merely cumulative of other overwhelming and largely uncontroverted evidence properly before the jury, and the Bruton error was harmless. Pp. 230-232.

452 F.2d 868, affirmed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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BURGER, J., lead opinion

[93 S.Ct. 1567] MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners were convicted by a jury of transporting stolen goods and of conspiracy to transport stolen goods in interstate commerce, contrary to 18 U.S.C. § 2314 and 18 U.S.C. § 371. The central issue now is whether petitioners have standing to challenge the lawfulness of the seizure of merchandise stolen by them but stored in the premises of one Knuckles, a coconspirator. At the time of the seizure from Knuckles, petitioners were in police custody in a different State. Knuckles successfully challenged the introduction of the stolen goods seized from his store under a faulty warrant, and his case was separately tried.

The evidence against petitioners is largely uncontroverted. Petitioner Brown was the manager of a warehouse in Cincinnati, Ohio, owned by a wholesale clothing and household goods company. He was entrusted with the warehouse keys. Petitioner Smith was a truck driver for the company. During 1968 and 1969, the company had experienced losses attributed to pilferage amounting to approximately $60,000 each year. One West, a buyer and supervisor for the company, recovered a slip of paper he had seen drop from Brown' pocket. On the slip, in Brown's handwriting, was a list of warehouse merchandise, together with a price on each item that was well below wholesale cost. West estimated that the lowest legitimate wholesale price for these items would have been a total of about $6,400, while the total as priced by Brown's list was $2,200. The police were

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promptly notified and set up a surveillance of the warehouse. Ten days later, petitioners were observed wheeling carts containing boxes of merchandise from the warehouse to a truck. From a concealed point, the police took 20 photographs of petitioners loading the merchandise onto the truck. Petitioners then locked the warehouse, and drove off. They were followed and stopped by the police, placed under arrest, advised of their constitutional rights, and, with the loaded truck, taken into custody to police headquarters. The goods in the truck had not been lawfully taken from the warehouse, and had a total value of about $6,500.

Following their arrest, and after being fully informed of their constitutional rights, both petitioners made separate confessions to police indicating that they had conspired with Knuckles to steal from the warehouse, that they had stolen goods from the warehouse in the past, and that they had taken these goods, on two occasions about two months before their arrest, to Knuckles' store in Manchester, Kentucky. Petitioners also indicated that they had "sold" the previously stolen goods on delivery to Knuckles for various amounts of cash. Knuckles' store was then searched pursuant to a warrant, and goods stolen from the company, worth over $100,000 in retail value, were discovered. Knuckles was at the store during the search, but petitioners were in custody in Ohio.

Prior to trial, petitioners and Knuckles1 moved to suppress the stolen merchandise found at Knuckles' store. The prosecution conceded that the warrant for the search of Knuckles' store was defective. The District Court held a hearing on petitioners' motion to suppress the evidence. Petitioners, however, alleged no proprietary or possessory interest in Knuckles' premises or in

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the goods seized there, nor was any evidence of such an interest presented to the District Court. After the hearing, the District Court granted Knuckles' motion to suppress the goods seized, but denied petitioners' motion for lack of standing. The charges against Knuckles were severed for separate trial.

At petitioners' trial, stolen merchandise seized from Knuckles' store was received in evidence. The events leading to petitioners' arrests upon leaving the [93 S.Ct. 1568] warehouse and while they were in possession of stolen goods were fully described by police officers who were eyewitnesses. The 20 photographs taken of the crime in progress were admitted into evidence. There was additional incriminating testimony by the owner of the service station from whom petitioners rented trucks used in the thefts, and by five witnesses who saw petitioners unloading boxes from a truck late at night and carrying the boxes into Knuckles' store. The prosecutor also introduced into evidence, over petitioners' objections, portions of each petitioner's confession which implicated the other in a manner now conceded to be contrary to Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123 (1968). Those considerable parts of each petitioner's confession which did not implicate the other were admitted without objection. The jury returned verdicts of guilty on all counts.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recognized that a Bruton error had occurred, but went on to conclude that the independent proof of petitioners' guilt was "so overwhelming that the error was harmless," citing Harrington v. California, 395 U.S. 250 (1969). The Court of Appeals also held that the stolen merchandise seized pursuant to the defective warrant was properly admitted against petitioners, stating:

This ruling [of the District Court] was correct because appellants claimed no possessory or proprietary

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rights in the goods or in Knuckles' store, and it is clear that they cannot assert the Fourth Amendment right of another.

452 F.2d 868, 870 (1971).


Petitioners contend that they have "automatic" standing to challenge the search and seizure at Knuckles' store. They rely on the decision of this Court in Jones v....

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