Beck v. State of Ohio

Decision Date23 November 1964
Docket NumberNo. 18,18
PartiesWilliam BECK, Petitioner, v. STATE OF OHIO
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

James R. Willis, Cleveland, Ohio, for petitioner.

William T. McKnight, Cleveland, Ohio, for respondent.

Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

On the afternoon of November 10, 1961, the petitioner, William Beck, was driving his automobile in the vicinity of East 115th Street and Beulah Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland police officers accosted him, identified themselves, and ordered him to pull over to the curb. The officers possessed neither an arrest warrant nor a search warrant. Placing him under arrest, they searched his car but found nothing of interest. They then took him to a nearby police station where they searched his person and found an envelope containing a number of clearing house slips 'beneath the sock of his leg.' The petitioner was subsequently charged in the Cleveland Municipal Court with possession of clearing house slips in violation of a state criminal statute.1 He filed a motion to suppress as evidence the clearing house slips in question, upon the ground that the police had obtained them by means of an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. After a hearing the motion was overruled, the clearing house slips were admitted in evidence, and the petitioner was convicted. His conviction was affirmed by an Ohio Court of Appeals, and ultimately by the Supreme Court of Ohio, with two judges dissenting. 175 Ohio St. 73, 191 N.E.2d 825. We granted certiorari to consider the petitioner's claim that, under the rule of Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081, the clearing house slips were wrongly ad- mitted in evidence against him because they had been seized by the Cleveland police in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. 376 U.S. 905, 84 S.Ct. 664, 11 L.Ed.2d 604.

Although the police officers did not obtain a warrant before arresting the petitioner and searching his automobile and his person, the Supreme Court of Ohio found the search nonetheless constitutionally valid as a search incident to a lawful arrest. And it is upon that basis that the Ohio decision has been supported by the respondent here. See Draper v. United States, 358 U.S. 307, 79 S.Ct. 329, 3 L.Ed.2d 327; Ker v. California, 374 U.S. 23, 83 S.Ct. 1623, 10 L.Ed.2d 726.

There are limits to the permissible scope of a warrantless search incident to a lawful arrest, but we proceed on the premise that, if the arrest itself was lawful, those limits were not exceeded here. See Harris v. United States, 331 U.S. 145, 67 S.Ct. 1098, 91 L.Ed. 1399; United States v. Rabinowitz, 339 U.S. 56, 70 S.Ct. 430, 94 L.Ed. 653; cf. Preston v. United States, 376 U.S. 364, 84 S.Ct. 881, 11 L.Ed.2d 777. The constitutional validity of the search in this case, then, must depend upon the constitutional validity of the petitioner's arrest. Whether that arrest was constitutionally valid depends in turn upon whether, at the moment the arrest was made, the officers had probable cause to make it whether at that moment the facts and circumstances within their knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy information were sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing that the petitioner had committed or was committing an offense. Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 175—176, 69 S.Ct. 1302, 1310—1311, 93 L.Ed. 1879; Henry v. United States, 361 U.S. 98, 102, 80 S.Ct. 168, 171, 4 L.Ed.2d 134. 'The rule of probable cause is a practical, nontechnical conception affording the best compromise that has been found for accommodating * * * often opposing interests. Requiring more would unduly hamper law enforcement. To allow less would be to leave law-abiding citizens at the mercy of the officers' whim or caprice.' Brinegar v. United States, supra, 338 U.S. at 176, 69 S.Ct. at 1311.

In turning to the question of whether or not the record in the case before us can support a finding of probable cause for the petitioner's arrest, it may be well to repeat what was said by Mr. Justice Clark, speaking for eight members of the Court, in Ker v. California:

'While this Court does not sit as in nisi prius to appraise contradictory factual questions, it will, where necessary to the determination of constitutional rights, make an independent examination of the facts, the findings, and the record so that it can determine for itself whether in the decision as to reasonableness the fundamental—i.e., constitutional—criteria established by this Court have been respected. The States are not thereby precluded from developing workable rules governing arrests, searches and seizures to meet 'the practical demands of effective criminal investigation and law enforcement' in the States, provided that those rules do not violate the constitutional proscription of unreasonable searches and seizures and the concomitant command that evidence so seized is inadmissible against one who has standing to complain. See Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257, 80 S.Ct. 725, 4 L.Ed.2d 697 (1960). Such a standard implies no derogation of uniformity in applying federal constitutional guarantees but is only a recognition that conditions and circumstances vary just as do investigative and enforcement techniques.' 374 U.S. 23, at 34, 83 S.Ct. 1623, at 1630.

The trial court made no findings of fact in this case. The trial judge simply made a conclusory statement: 'A lawful arrest has been made, and this was a search incidental to that lawful arrest.' The Court of Appeals merely found 'no error prejudicial to the appellant.' In the Supreme Court of Ohio, Judge Zimmerman's opinion contained a narrative recital which is accurately excerpted in the dissenting opinions filed today. But, putting aside the question of whether this opinion can fairly be called the opinion of the court,2 such a recital in an appellate opinion is hardly the equivalent of findings made by the trier of the facts. In any event, after giving full scope to the flexibility demanded by 'a recognition that conditions and circumstances vary just as do investigative and enforcement techniques,' we hold that the arrest of the petitioner cannot on the record before us be squared with the demands of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

The record is meager, consisting only of the testimony of one of the arresting officers, given at the hearing on the motion to suppress. As to the officer's own knowledge of the petitioner before the arrest, the record shows no more than that the officer 'had a police picture of him and knew what he looked like,' and that the officer knew that the petitioner had 'a record in connection with clearing house and scheme of chance.'3 Beyond that, the offi- cer testified only that he had 'information' that he had 'heard reports,' that 'someone specifically did relate that information,' and that he 'knew who that person was.' There is nowhere in the record any indication of what 'information' or 'reports' the officer had received, or, beyond what has been set out above, from what source the 'information' and 'reports' had come. The officer testified that when he left the station house, 'I had in mind looking for (the petitioner) in the area of East 115th Street and Beulah, stopping him if I did see him make a stop in that area.' But the officer testified to nothing that would indicate that any informer had said that the petitioner could be found at that time and place. Cf. Draper v. United States, 358 U.S. 307, 79 S.Ct. 329, 3 L.Ed.2d 327. And the record does not show that the officers saw the petitioner 'stop' before they arrested him, or that they saw, heard, smelled, or otherwise perceived anything else to give them ground for belief that the petitioner had acted or was then acting unlawfully.4 No decision of this Court has upheld the constitutional validity of a warrantless arrest with support so scant as this record presents. The respondent relies upon Draper v. United States, 358 U.S. 307, 79 S.Ct. 329, 3 L.Ed.2d 327. But in that case the record showed that a named special employee of narcotics agents who had on numerous occasions given reliable information had told the arresting officer that the defendant, whom he described minutely, had taken up residence at a stated address and was selling narcotics to addicts in Denver. The informer further had told the officer that the defendant was going to Chicago to obtain narcotics and would be returning to Denver on one of two trains from Chicago, which event in fact took place. In complete contrast, the record in this case does not contain a single objective fact to support a belief by the officers that the petitioner was engaged in criminal activity at the time they arrested him.

An arrest without a warrant bypasses the safeguards provided by an objective predetermination of probable cause, and substitutes instead the far less reliable procedure on an after-the-event justification for the arrest or search, too likely to be subtly influenced by the familiar shortcomings of hindsight judgment. 'Whether or not the requirements of reliability and particularity of the information on which an officer may act are more stringent where an arrest warrant is absent, they surely cannot be less stringent than where an arrest warrant is obtained. Otherwise, a principal incentive now existing for the procurement of arrest warrants would be destroyed.' Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 479—480, 83 S.Ct. 407, 413, 9 L.Ed.2d 441. Yet even in cases where warrants were obtained, the Court has held that the Constitution demands a greater showing of probable cause than can be found in the present record. Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108, 84 S.Ct. 1509, 12 L.Ed.2d 723; Giordenello v. United States, 357 U.S. 480, 78 S.Ct. 1245, 2 L.Ed.2d 1503; 5 Nathanson v. United States, 290 U.S. 41, 54 S.Ct. 11, 78 L.Ed. 159.6

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