416 U.S. 430 (1974), 72-6902, Gooding v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 72-6902
Citation:416 U.S. 430, 94 S.Ct. 1780, 40 L.Ed.2d 250
Party Name:Gooding v. United States
Case Date:April 29, 1974
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 430

416 U.S. 430 (1974)

94 S.Ct. 1780, 40 L.Ed.2d 250



United States

No. 72-6902

United States Supreme Court

April 29, 1974

Argued February 25, 1974




Petitioner, charged with illegal possession of drugs, made a motion to suppress the physical evidence seized in petitioner's apartment on February 12, 1971, at 9:30 p.m. by District of Columbia police officers pursuant to a magistrate's search warrant. Although no provisions of the D.C.Code were explicitly referred to, petitioner apparently contended, inter alia, that the warrant was executed in the night-time in violation of D.C.Code § 23-521(f)(5), which specifically requires that search warrants be served in the daytime unless certain statutory conditions are met, none of which was satisfied here. The District Court granted petitioner's motion, rejecting the Government's contention that the warrant was issued under 21 U.S.C. § 879(a), which relates only to searches for "controlled substances" and provides that a warrant may be served "at any time of the day or night" as long as the issuing authority is satisfied that probable cause exists to believe that there are grounds for the warrant "and for its service at such time." The Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that 21 U.S.C. § 879(a) was the applicable statute, and that its terms had been satisfied.


1. Title 21 U.S.C. § 879(a), which is part of a comprehensive federal scheme for the control of drug abuse, applies to this case. Pp. 446-454.

(a) The standards for issuance of the warrant should be governed by nationwide federal legislation, rather than by local D.C. laws. An Assistant United States Attorney filed the application for the warrant with a Federal Magistrate, alleging violations of the United States Code for which petitioner was indicted. P. 447.

(b) Though the affiant officer and the officers executing the warrant were D.C. police, rather than federal officers, and the legislative history of § 879(a) stressed federal enforcement, Congress manifested no purpose to dispense with the aid of other enforcement personnel in dealing with the narcotics problem. Pp. 447-450.

Page 431

(c) If petitioner's contention were to prevail, the general search warrant statute applicable to the District of Columbia would govern D.C. police officers when investigating federal drug violations but not other federal crimes, despite the fact that D.C. police officers historically played a prominent role in federal drug enforcement under 18 U.S.C. § 1405 (194 ed.), the predecessor [94 S.Ct. 1782] statute of 21 U.S.C. § 879(a). Pp. 450-454.

2. Title 21 U.S.C. § 879(a), as was true of its predecessor statute, requires no special showing for a night-time search, other than a showing, such as was made here, that the contraband is likely to be on the property or person to be searched at that time. Pp. 454-458.

155 U.S.App.D.C. 259, 477 F.2d 428, affirmed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 459. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which DOUGLAS and BRENNAN, JJ., joined, post, p. 461.

REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner in this case presents a claim that evidence offered against him at his trial should have been suppressed because it was seized at night-time in violation of governing statutory provisions. The search which led to the seizure was conducted by officers of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department at approximately 9:30 p.m. within the District of Columbia.

Page 432

Armed with a search warrant, the officers entered petitioner's apartment for the purpose of discovering violations of a federal narcotics statute, and seized a substantial amount of contraband narcotics. The parties urge upon us differing theories concerning which federal or District of Columbia statute bears on the legality of this search, and we must therefore interpret and reconcile several recent congressional enactments dealing with night-time searches which seem to embody somewhat inconsistent views.1

The Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court's description of this congeries of statutes as a "`bramblebush of uncertainties and contradictions,'"2 and a mere summary of the statutes attests to the accuracy of that observation:

District of Columbia Statutes: The older of the two conceivably relevant District of Columbia statutes, D.C.Code § 33-414 (1973),3 was enacted in 1956, and authorizes

Page 433

search warrants for violations of the District of Columbia narcotics laws. This section does not limit the time during which searches may be made, stating plainly that "[t]he judge or commissioner shall insert a direction in the warrant that it may be served at any time in the day or night." This liberal time provision is in direct contrast to the more restrictive provisions of the second

Page 434

District of Columbia statute to be considered, D.C.Code 23-521(f)(5),4 which specifically requires that search warrants be served in the daytime unless certain conditions

Page 435

set forth in § 23-522(c)(1) are met. These conditions essentially require a showing of special need to search at night, and concededly have not been satisfied in this case.

Page 436

Federal Statutes and Rules: The general provision governing federal search warrants is found in Fed.Rule Crim.Proc. 41.5 At the time the search in this case

Page 437

took place, Rule 41(c) provided that warrants must be served in the daytime except where "the affidavits are positive that the property is on the person or in the place to be searched."6 In such event, the warrant

Page 438

could direct "that it be served at any time." This provision was incorporated in the Rules [94 S.Ct. 1785] in 1948 as a replacement for language previously contained in the Espionage Act of 1917.7 A second federal statute relating only to searches for "controlled substances" is found in 21 U.S.C. § 879(a),8 which was enacted in

Page 439

1970. That section provides that a warrant may be served "at any time of the day or night" so long as the issuing authority "is satisfied that there is probable cause to believe that grounds exist for the warrant and for its service at such time." This provision, in turn, is the successor to a provision in 18 U.S.C. § 1405 (1964 ed.),9 enacted in 1956 to relax the "positivity" test of Rule 41 in cases involving certain narcotic drugs.10 Congress had passed this statute in response to the complaints of law enforcement officers that the positivity requirement gave commercial narcotics dealers a definite advantage over federal agents. Rule 41 is therefore not applicable to searches governed by the more specific narcotic search statutes.11

Page 440

[94 S.Ct. 1786] The facts of this case must be understood in the context of these statutes. On February 11, 1971, an Assistant United States Attorney applied to a United States Magistrate sitting in the District of Columbia for a warrant authorizing a search of petitioner's apartment for evidence of illegal narcotics. The application included the brief notation: "Violation: U.S.C.; Title 26. Sections: 4704a." In connection with the application, an officer of the Metropolitan Police Department vice squad appeared before the Magistrate and swore that he had reason to believe petitioner was concealing property held in violation of that same code provision.12

Page 4441

The officer supplemented his personal testimony with a written affidavit, outlining the basis for the application in more detail and alleging specifically that "illegal drugs are sold and possessed in violation of the United States Code, Title 26, Section 4704a."13 The affidavit concluded with the language: "I am positive that Lonnie Gooding is secreting narcotics inside his apartment at 1419 Chapin Street N.W. in violation of the US Code."

The Magistrate then issued a warrant directing the Chief of Police or "any member of MPDC" to search petitioner's apartment.14 The warrant [94 S.Ct. 1787] specifically noted

Page 442

that facts had been set forth in an affidavit alleging a violation of 26 U.S.C. § 4704(a) (1964 ed.) and that those facts established probable cause to make the search. The warrant also stated that the search could be made "at any time in the day or night." This phrase was accompanied by a footnote reference to Fed.Rule Crim.Proc. 41(c), presumably because the police officer had asserted he was "positive" the drugs were in petitioner's apartment. One of the briefs filed in this case suggests that the warrant form was preprinted, and contemplated application of Rule 41 standards.15

The search warrant was executed on February 12, 1971, at 9:30 p.m.16 The officers engaged in the search were

Page 443

all members of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department, and the search uncovered a substantial quantity of contraband narcotic materials. They were seized and formed the basis for charging petitioner with violations of 26 U.S.C. § 4704(a) (1964 ed.)17 and 21 U.S.C. § 174 (1964 ed.).18 Following his indictment in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on April 6, 1971, petitioner filed a motion to suppress the evidence discovered in the February 12 search.

Several grounds were asserted in support of the motion, particularly that

[t]he search warrant was executed at night, but the application for the warrant did not comply with the D.C.Code provisions for night-time search

Page 444

warrants. . . .19


To continue reading