441 U.S. 238 (1979), 77-1722, Dalia v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 77-1722
Citation:441 U.S. 238, 99 S.Ct. 1682, 60 L.Ed.2d 177
Party Name:Dalia v. United States
Case Date:April 18, 1979
Court:United States Supreme Court

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441 U.S. 238 (1979)

99 S.Ct. 1682, 60 L.Ed.2d 177



United States

No. 77-1722

United States Supreme Court

April 18, 1979

Argued January 9, 10, 1979




Pursuant to Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, the District Court, finding probable cause to believe that petitioner was a member of a conspiracy the purpose of which was to steal goods being shipped in interstate commerce, granted the Government's request for authorization to intercept all oral communications taking place in petitioner's business office. Petitioner was subsequently convicted of receiving stolen goods and conspiring to transport, receive, and possess stolen goods. At a hearing on his motion to suppress evidence obtained under the bugging order, it was shown that, although such order did not explicitly authorize entry of petitioner's business office, FBI agents had entered the office secretly at midnight on the day of the bugging order and had spent three hours installing an electronic bug in the ceiling. Denying petitioner's motion to suppress, the District Court ruled that, under Title III, a covert entry to install electronic eavesdropping equipment is not unlawful merely because the court approving the surveillance did not explicitly authorize such an entry. Affirming petitioner's conviction, the Court of Appeals rejected his contention that separate court authorization was necessary for the covert entry of his office.


1. The Fourth Amendment does not prohibit per se a covert entry performed for the purpose of installing otherwise legal electronic bugging equipment. Implicit in decisions such as Irvine v. California, 347 U.S. 12, and Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505, has been this Court's view that covert entries are constitutional in some circumstances, at least if they are made pursuant to warrant. Petitioner's [99 S.Ct. 1684] argument that covert entries are unconstitutional for their lack of notice is frivolous, as was indicated in Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 355 n. 16, where this Court stated that

officers need not announce their purpose before conducting an otherwise [duly] authorized search if such an announcement would provoke the escape of the suspect or the destruction of critical evidence.

Pp. 246-248.

2. Congress has given the courts statutory authority to approve covert entries for the purpose of installing electronic surveillance equipment. Although Title III does not refer explicitly to covert entry, the language,

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structure, purpose, and history of the statute demonstrate that Congress meant to authorize courts -- in certain specified circumstances -- to approve electronic surveillance without limitation on the means necessary to its accomplishment, so long as they are reasonable under the circumstances. Congress clearly understood that it was conferring power upon the courts to authorize covert entries ancillary to their responsibility to review and approve surveillance applications under the statute. Pp. 249-254.

3. The Fourth Amendment does not require that a Title III electronic surveillance order include a specific authorization to enter covertly the premises described in the order. Pp. 254-259.

(a) The Warrant Clause of the Fourth Amendment requires only that warrants be issued by neutral, disinterested magistrates, that those seeking the warrant must demonstrate to the magistrate their probable cause to believe that the evidence sought will aid in a particular apprehension or conviction for a particular offense, and that warrants must particularly describe the things to be seized, as well as the place to be searched. Here, the bugging order was a warrant issued in full compliance with these traditional Fourth Amendment requirements. Pp. 255-256.

(b) Nothing in the language of the Constitution or in this Court's decisions interpreting that language suggests that, in addition to these requirements, search warrants also must include a specification of the precise manner in which they are to be executed. On the contrary, it is generally left to the discretion of the executing officers to determine the details of how best to proceed with the performance of a search authorized by warrant -- subject to the general Fourth Amendment protection "against unreasonable searches and seizures." Pp. 256-257.

(c) An interpretation of the Warrant Clause so as to require that, whenever it is reasonably likely that Fourth Amendment rights may be affected in more than one way, the court must set forth precisely the procedures to be followed by the executing officers, is unnecessary, since the manner in which a warrant is executed is subject to later judicial review as to its reasonableness. More important, it would promote empty formalism were this Court to require magistrates to make explicit what unquestionably is implicit in bugging authorizations: that a covert entry, with its attendant interference with Fourth Amendment interests, may be necessary for the installation of the surveillance equipment. Pp. 257-25.

575 F.2d 1344, affirmed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined and in Parts I and II

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of which BRENNAN and STEWART, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which STEWART, J., joined except as to Part I, post, p. 259. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 262.

POWELL, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (Title III), 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510-2520, permits courts to authorize electronic surveillance1 by Government officers in specified situations. We took this case [99 S.Ct. 1685] by writ of

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certiorari to resolve two questions concerning the implementation of Title III surveillance orders. 439 U.S. 17. First, may courts authorize electronic surveillance that requires covert entry2 into private premises for installation of the necessary equipment? Second, must authorization for such surveillance include a specific statement by the court that it approves of the covert entry?3


On March 14, 1973, Justice Department officials applied to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, seeking authorization under 18 U.S.C. § 2518 to intercept telephone conversations on two telephones in petitioner's business office. After examining the affidavits submitted in support of the Government's request, the District Court authorized the wiretap for a period of 20 days or until the purpose of the interception was achieved, whichever came first. The court found probable cause to believe that petitioner was a member of a conspiracy the purpose of which was to steal goods being shipped in interstate commerce in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 659. Moreover, the court found reason to believe that petitioner's business telephones were being used to further this conspiracy, and that means of investigating the conspiracy

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other than electronic surveillance would be unlikely to succeed, and would be dangerous. The wiretap order carefully enumerated the telephones to be affected and the types of conversations to be intercepted. Finally, the court ordered the officials in charge of the interceptions to take all reasonable precautions "to minimize the interception of communications not otherwise subject to interception," and required the officials to make periodic progress reports.

At the end of the 20-day period covered by the March 14 court order, the Government requested an extension of the wiretap authorization. In addition, the Government for the first time asked the court to allow it to intercept all oral communications taking place in petitioner's office, including those not involving the telephone. On April 5, 1973, the court granted the Government's second request. Its order concerning the wiretap of petitioner's telephones closely tracked [99 S.Ct. 1686] the March 14 order. Finding reasonable cause to believe that petitioner's office was being used by petitioner and others in connection with the alleged conspiracy, the court also authorized, for a maximum period of 20 days, the interception of all oral communications concerning the conspiracy at

the business office of Larry Dalia, consisting of an enclosed room, approximately fifteen (15) by eighteen (18) feet in dimension, and situated in the northwesterly corner of a one-story building housing Wrap-O-Matic Machinery Company, Ltd., and Precise Packaging, and located at 1105 West St. George Avenue, Linden, New Jersey.

The order included protective provisions similar to those in the March 14 wiretapping order.4 The electronic surveillance order of April 5 was extended by court order on April 27, 1973.

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On November 6, 1975, petitioner was indicted in a five-count indictment charging that he had been involved in a

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conspiracy to steal an interstate shipment of fabric.5 At trial, the Government introduced evidence [99 S.Ct. 1687] showing that petitioner had been approached in March, 1973, and asked to store in his New Jersey warehouse "a load of merchandise." Although petitioner declined the request, he directed the requesting party to Higgins, an associate, with whom he agreed to share the $1,500 storage fee that was offered. The merchandise stored under this contract proved to be a tractor-trailer full of fabric worth $250,000 that three men stole on April 3, 1973, and transported to Higgins' warehouse. Two days after the theft, FBI agents arrested Higgins and the...

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