468 U.S. 705 (1984), 83-850, United States v Karo

Docket Nº:No. 83-850
Citation:468 U.S. 705, 104 S.Ct. 3296, 82 L.Ed.2d 530
Party Name:United States v Karo
Case Date:July 03, 1984
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 705

468 U.S. 705 (1984)

104 S.Ct. 3296, 82 L.Ed.2d 530

United States v Karo

No. 83-850

United States Supreme Court

July 3, 1984

Argued April 25, 1984

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE TENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

After a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent learned that respondents Karo, Horton, and Harley had ordered 50 gallons of ether from a Government informant, who had told the agent that the ether was to be used to extract cocaine from clothing that had been imported into the United States, the Government obtained a court order authorizing the installation and monitoring of a beeper in one of the cans of ether. With the informant's consent, DEA agents substituted their own can containing a beeper for one of the cans in the shipment. Thereafter, agents saw Karo pick up the ether from the informant, followed Karo to his house, and determined by using the beeper that the ether was inside the house, where it was then monitored. The ether then moved in succession to two other houses, including Horton's, before it was moved first to a locker in one commercial storage facility and then to a locker in another such facility. Both lockers were rented jointly by Horton and Harley. Finally, the ether was removed from the second storage facility by respondent Rhodes and an unidentified woman and transported in Horton's truck, first to Rhodes' house and then to a house rented by Horton, Harley, and respondent Steele. Using the beeper monitor, agents determined that the beeper can was inside the house, and obtained a warrant to search the house based in part on information derived through use of the beeper. The warrant was executed, and Horton, Harley, Steele, and respondent Roth were arrested, and cocaine was seized. Respondents were indicted for various offenses relating to the cocaine. The District Court granted respondents' pretrial motion to suppress the seized evidence on the grounds that the initial warrant to install the beeper was invalid, and that the seizure was the tainted fruit of an unauthorized installation and monitoring of the beeper. The Government appealed, but did not challenge the invalidation of the initial warrant. The Court of Appeals affirmed, except with respect to Rhodes, holding that a warrant was required to install the beeper in the can of ether and to monitor it in private dwellings and storage lockers, that the warrant for the search of the house rented by Horton, Harley, and Steele, and the resulting seizure, were tainted by the Government's prior illegal conduct, and that therefore the evidence was properly suppressed as to Horton, Harley, Steele, Roth, and Karo.

Page 706

Held:

1. No Fourth Amendment interest of Karo or of any other respondent was infringed by the installation of the beeper. The informant's consent was sufficient to validate the installation. And the transfer of the beeper-laden can to Karo was neither a search nor a seizure, since it conveyed no information that Karo wished to keep private and did not interfere with anyone's possessory interest in a meaningful way. Pp. 711-713.

2. The monitoring of a beeper in a private residence, a location not opened to visual surveillance, violates the Fourth Amendment rights of those who have a justifiable interest in the privacy of the residence. Here, if a DEA agent had entered the house in question without a warrant [104 S.Ct. 3299] to verify that the ether was in the house, he would have engaged in an unreasonable search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The result is the same where, without a warrant, the Government surreptitiously uses a beeper to obtain information that it could not have obtained from outside the curtilage of the house. There is no reason in this case to deviate from the general rule that a search of a house should be conducted pursuant to a warrant. Pp. 713-718.

3. The evidence seized in the house in question, however, should not have been suppressed with respect to any of the respondents. The information that the ether was in the house, verified by use of the beeper without a warrant, would be inadmissible against those respondents with privacy interests in the house, and would invalidate the search warrant, if critical to establishing probable cause. But because locating, without prior monitoring, the ether in the second storage facility was not an illegal search (use of the beeper not identifying the specific locker in which the ether was located and the locker being identified only by the smell of ether emanating therefrom), and because the ether was seen being loaded into Horton's truck, which then traveled the highways, it is evident that there was no violation of the Fourth Amendment as to anyone with or without standing to complain about monitoring the beeper while it was located in the truck. United States v. Knotts, 460 U.S. 276. Under the circumstances, the warrant affidavit, after striking the facts about monitoring the beeper while it was in the searched house, contained sufficient untainted information to furnish probable cause for issuance of the search warrant. Pp. 719-721.

710 F.2d 1433, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN and POWELL, JJ., joined, in Parts I, II, and IV of which REHNQUIST and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and in Part III of which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which

Page 707

REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 721. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 728.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

In United States v. Knotts, 460 U.S. 276 (1983), we held that the warrantless monitoring of an electronic tracking device ("beeper")1 inside a container of chemicals did not violate the Fourth Amendment when it revealed no information that could not have been obtained through visual surveillance. In this case, we are called upon to address two questions left unresolved in Knotts: (1) whether installation of a beeper in a container of chemicals with the consent of the original owner constitutes a search or seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when the container is delivered to a buyer having no knowledge of the presence of the beeper, and (2) whether monitoring of a beeper falls within the ambit of the Fourth Amendment when it reveals information that could not have been obtained through visual surveillance.

Page 708

I

In August, 1980, Agent Rottinger of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) learned that respondents James Karo, Richard Horton, and William Harley had ordered 50 gallons of ether from Government informant Carl Muehlenweg of Graphic Photo Design in Albuquerque, N.M. Muehlenweg told Rottinger that the ether was to be used to extract cocaine from clothing that had been imported into the United States. The Government obtained a court order authorizing the installation and monitoring of a beeper in one of the cans of ether. With Muehlenweg's consent, agents substituted their own can containing a beeper for one of the cans in the shipment, and then had all 10 cans painted to give them a uniform appearance.

[104 S.Ct. 3300] On September 20, 1980, agents saw Karo pick up the ether from Muehlenweg. They then followed Karo to his house, using visual and beeper surveillance. At one point later that day, agents determined by using the beeper that the ether was still inside the house, but they later determined that it had been moved undetected to Horton's house, where they located it using the beeper. Agent Rottinger could smell the ether from the public sidewalk near Horton's residence. Two days later, agents discovered that the ether had once again been moved, and, using the beeper, they located it at the residence of Horton's father. The next day, the beeper was no longer transmitting from Horton's father's house, and agents traced the beeper to a commercial storage facility.

Because the beeper equipment was not sensitive enough to allow agents to learn precisely which locker the ether was in, agents obtained a subpoena for the records of the storage company and learned that locker 143 had been rented by Horton. Using the beeper, agents confirmed that the ether was indeed in one of the lockers in the row containing locker 143, and using their noses they detected the odor of ether emanating from locker 143. On October 8, agents obtained an order authorizing installation of an entry tone alarm into the door

Page 709

jamb of the locker so they would be able to tell when the door was opened. While installing the alarm, agents observed that the cans containing ether were still inside. Agents ceased visual and beeper surveillance, relying instead on the entry tone alarm. However, on October 16, Horton retrieved the contents from the locker without sounding the alarm. Agents did not learn of the entry until the manager of the storage facility notified them that Horton had been there.

Using the beeper, agents traced the beeper can to another self-storage facility three days later. Agents detected the smell of ether coming from locker 15, and learned from the manager that Horton and Harley had rented that locker using an alias the same day that the ether had been removed from the first storage facility. The agents obtained an order authorizing the installation of an entry tone alarm in locker 15, but instead of installing that alarm, they obtained consent from the manager of the facility to install a closed-circuit video camera in a locker that had a view of locker 15. On February 6, 1981, agents observed, by means of the video camera, Gene Rhodes and an unidentified...

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