Davis v. United States

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation328 U.S. 582,66 S.Ct. 1256,90 L.Ed. 1453
Docket NumberNo. 404,404
Decision Date10 June 1946

328 U.S. 582
66 S.Ct. 1256
90 L.Ed. 1453



No. 404.
Argued Feb. 5, 1946.
Decided June 10, 1946.
Rehearing Denied Oct. 21, 1946.

See 67 S.Ct. 107.

Page 583

Mr. Irving Spieler, of New York City (Messrs. Samuel Mezansky and Moses Polakoff, both of New York City, of counsel), for petitioner.

Mr. John J. Cooney, of Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner was convicted under an information charging him with unlawfully having in his possession on June 20, 1944, 168 gasoline ration coupons, representing 504 gallons of gasoline.1 The judgment of conviction was sustained

Page 584

by the Circuit Court of Appeals (2 Cir., 151 F.2d 140) over the objection that there was an unlawful search which resulted in the seizure of the coupons and their use at the trial in

Page 585

violation of the rule of Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 34 S.Ct. 341, 58 L.Ed. 652, L.R.A.1915B, 834, Ann.Cas.1915C, 1177; United States v. Lefkowitz, 285 U.S. 452, 52 S.Ct. 420, 76 L.Ed. 877, 82 A.L.R. 775; and related cases. The case is here on a petition for a writ of certiorari which we granted because of the importance of the question presented.

Davis was president of a corporation by the name of Davis Auto Laundry Corporation which maintained a gasoline filling station in New York City. He was suspected of running a black market in gasoline. Several agents drove to a place near the gasoline station and observed it for a few hours. They had no search warrant nor a warrant for the arrest of petitioner. Two of the agents drove their cars into the station and asked for gas. Petitioner was not present at the time. But an attendant, an employee of petitioner, was present and waited on them. Through her each of the two agents succeeded in purchasing gas without gasoline ration stamps by paying twenty cents a gallon above the ceiling price. Shortly thereafter they arrested her for selling gasoline without coupons and above the ceiling price. She said that in doing so she was following petitioner's instructions. While she was being questioned by the agents, petitioner returned to the station in his car. They immediately arrested him on the same charge as the attendant2 and searched his car. They demanded and received from him the keys to tin boxes attached to the gasoline pumps and in which gasoline ration coupons were kept. One of them began to examine and measure the gasoline storage tanks and their contents. It soon appeared that the gasoline ration coupons found in the tin boxes were not sufficient

Page 586

to cover the amount by which the capacity of the storage tanks had been diminished by sales.

While this examination of the storage tanks was under way, petitioner went with two of the agents into his office which was on the premises.3 The office consisted of a waiting room and inner room. He was questioned in the waiting room for about an hour. A door led from the waiting room into the inner room where records were kept. The door to it was locked. Petitioner at first refused to open it. When told that the examination of the tanks had revealed a shortage of coupons, petitioner assured the agents that he had sufficient coupons to cover the shortage and that they were in the locked room. The officers asked to see the coupons and based their demand on the fact that the coupons were property of the government of which petitioner was only the custodian. Petitioner persisted, however, in his refusal to unlock the door. Before long he did unlock it, took from a filing cabinet the coupons on which the conviction rests, and gave them to the agents. He testified that he did so because the agents threatened to break down the door if he did not. The District Court did not believe petitioner's version of the episode. One agent testified: 'Q. Did you try to convince Davis that he ought to open that door leading into the private office? A. I didn't try to convince him. I told him that he would have to open that door. Q. Did you tell him if he did not you would break it down? A. I did not tell himt hat at all.' And it appeared that while the two agents were talking with Davis in the waiting room, another agent was in the rear shinging a flashlight through an outside window of the inner room and apparently trying

Page 587

to raise the window. According to one of the agents, when petitioner saw that, he said, 'He don't need to do that. I will open the damned door.' Some six weeks later petitioner was arrested on a warrant and arraigned.

The District Court found that petitioner had consented to the search and seizure and that his consent was voluntary. The Circuit Court of Appeals did not disturb that finding, although it expressed some doubt concerning it. In its view, the seized coupons were properly introduced into evidence because the search and seizure, being incidental to the arrest, were 'reasonable' regardless of petitioner's consent.

The Fourth Amendment provides:

'The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.'

And the Fifth Amendment provides in part that 'No person * * * shall be compelled in any Criminal Case to be a witness against himself * * *.'

The law of searches and seizures as revealed in the decisions of this Court is the product of the interplay of these two constitutional provisions. Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 6 S.Ct. 524, 29 L.Ed. 746. It reflects a dual purpose—protection of the privacy of the individual, his right to be 1et alone; protection of the individual against compulsory production of evidence to be used against him. Boyd v. United States, supra; Weeks v. United States, supra. And see Oklahoma Press Pub. Co. v. Walling, 327 U.S. 186, 66 S.Ct. 494.

We do not stop to review all of our decisions which define the scope of 'reasonable' searches and seizures. For they have largely developed out of cases involving

Page 588

the search and seizure of private papers. We are dealing here not with private papers or documents, but with gasoline ration coupons which never became the private property of the holder but remained at all times the property of the government and subject to inspection and recall by it.

At the times relevant here, gasoline was rationed. Dealers could lawfully sell it only on receipt of ration coupons.4 They in turn could receive their supplies of gasoline from the distributors only on delivery of coupons. 5 It was required that a dealer at all times have coupons on hand at his place of business or in a bank equal to but not in excess of the gallonage necessary to fill his storage tanks.6 Possession of coupons obtained in contravention of the regulations was unlawful.7 The coupons remained the property of the Office of Price Administration8 and were at all times subject to recall by it.9 And they were subject to inspection at all times. 10

Page 589

We are thus dealing not with private papers or documents but with public property in the custody of a citizen. The distinction between the two classes of property in the law of searches and seizures was recognized in Wilson v. United States, 221 U.S. 361, 380, 31 S.Ct. 538, 544, 55 L.Ed. 771, Ann.Cas.1912D, 558, where the Court stated:

'But the physical custody of incriminating documents does not of itself protect the custodian against their compulsory production. The question still remains with respect to the nature of the documents and the capacity in which they are held. It may yet appear that they are of a character which subjects them to the scrutiny demanded and that the custodian has voluntarily assumed a duty which overrides his claim of privilege. This was clearly implied in the Boyd case, where the fact that the papers involved were the private papers of the claimant was constantly emphasized. Thus, in the case of public records and official documents, made or kept in the administration of public office, the fact of actual possession or of lawful custody would not justify the officer in resisting inspection, even though the record was made by himself and would supply the evidence of his criminal dereliction. If he has embezzled the

Page 590

public moneys and falsified the public accounts, he cannot seal his official records and withhold them from the prosecuting authorities on a plea of constitutional privilege against self-crimination. The principle applies not only to public documents in public offices, but also to records required by law to be kept in order that there may be suitable information of transactions which are the appropriate subjects of governmental regulation, and the enforcement of restrictions validly established. There the privilege which exists as to probate papers, cannot be maintained.'

The Court proceeded to analyze the English and American authorities and added, 221 U.S. at pages 381, 382, 31 S.Ct. at page 545, 55 L.Ed. 771, Ann.Cas.1912D, 558:

'The fundamental ground of decision in this class of cases, is that where, by virtue of their character and the rules of law applicable to them, the books and papers are held subject to examination by the demanding authority, the custodian has no privilege to refuse production although their contents tend to criminate him. In assuming their custody he has accepted the incident obligation to permit inspection.'

The distinction is between property to which the government is entitled to possession and the property to which it is not.11 See 8W igmore on Evidence, 3d Ed., § 2259c.

Page 591

The distinction has had important repercussions in the law, beyond that indicated by Wilson v. United States, supra. For an owner of property who seeks to take it from one who...

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460 practice notes
  • State v. Hamm, No. W2016-01282-SC-R11-CD
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • November 21, 2019
    ...Amendment rights by consenting to a search." United States v. Carter , 378 F.3d 584, 587 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing Davis v. United States , 328 U.S. 582, 593-94 [66 S.Ct. 1256, 90 L.Ed. 1453] (1946) ). Second, even though entering into a probation order allows the possibility of home searches......
  • State v. Ringer, Nos. 49022-8
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • December 29, 1983
    ...exception, were explicitly recognized. See 9 Halsbury, Laws of England 100-01 (Hailsham 2d ed. 1933). See also Davis v. United States, 328 U.S. 582, 603, 66 S.Ct. 1256, 1266, 90 L.Ed. 1453 (1946) (Frankfurter, J., dissenting). In State v. Gibbons, 118 Wash. 171, 203 P. 390 (1922), we declin......
  • State v. Harris, No. 3855
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • March 17, 1987
    ...412, 389 A.2d 730, cert. denied, 439 U.S. 859, 99 S.Ct. 177, 58 L.Ed.2d 168 (1978); and (2) consent. See, e.g., David v. United States, 328 U.S. 582, 593-94, 66 S.Ct. 1256 [1261-62], 90 L.Ed. [10 Conn.App. 224] 1453, reh. denied, 329 U.S. 824, 67 S.Ct. 107, 91 L.Ed. 700 (1946); Dotson v. Wa......
  • People v. Markham
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 20, 1986
    ...and Fifth Amendments. (See Malloy v. Hogan (1964) 378 U.S. 1, 8-9, 84 S.Ct. 1489, 1493-1494, 12 L.Ed.2d 653; Davis v. United States (1946) 328 U.S. 582, 587, 66 S.Ct. 1256, 1258, 90 L.Ed. 1453 ["The law of searches and seizures as revealed in the decisions of this Court is the product of th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
468 cases
  • People v. Markham
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 20, 1986
    ...Amendments. (See Malloy v. Hogan (1964) 378 U.S. 1, 8-9, 84 S.Ct. 1489, 1493-1494, 12 L.Ed.2d 653; Davis v. United States (1946) 328 U.S. 582, 587, 66 S.Ct. 1256, 1258, 90 L.Ed. 1453 ["The law of searches and seizures as revealed in the decisions of this Court is the product of the interpla......
  • People v. Lee, Cr. 10823
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • June 5, 1973
    ...Castaneda v. Superior Court, supra; Schneckloth v. Bustamonte,--U.S.--, --, 93 S.Ct. 2041, 36 L.Ed.2d 854; Davis v. United States, 328 U.S. 582, 593-594, 66 S.Ct. 1256, 90 L.Ed. 1453; People v. Bustamonte, 270 Cal.App.2d 648, 652, 76 Cal.Rptr. 17.) The burden, in each instance, is upon the ......
  • Elder v. Board of Medical Examiners
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 31, 1966
    ...protect privacy by preserving private papers, such as a personal diary, from any seizure. (Davis v. United States (1946) 328 U.S. 582, 595, 66 S.Ct. 1256 (90 L.Ed. 1453) (Frankfurter, J., dissenting); United States v. Boyette (4th Cir.1961) 299 F.2d 92; United States v. Stern (D.C.S.D.N.Y.1......
  • People v. Doe
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • December 31, 1981
    ...validly established" (see Wilson v. United States, 221 U.S. 361, 380, 31 S.Ct. 538, 544, 55 L.Ed. 771; Davis v. United States, 328 U.S. 582, 589-590, 66 S.Ct. 1256, 1259, 90 L.Ed. 1453; see, also, Shapiro v. United States, 335 U.S. 1, 68 S.Ct. 1375, 92 L.Ed. 1787) rather than private papers......
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1 books & journal articles
  • The Supreme Court as Protector of Civil Rights: Criminal Justice
    • United States
    • ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, The No. 275-1, May 1951
    • May 1, 1951
    ...phone (a device for hearing sounds passage of many years, and by writ ofhabeas corpus rather than direct ap- 41 Davis v. United States, 328 U. S. 582 peal. (1946)-Frankfurter, Murphy, Rutledge, JJ., On the other hand, in dealing with dissenting, Jackson, J., not participating; Har- state ri......

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