Fremont Weeks v. United States

Decision Date24 February 1914
Docket NumberNo. 461,461
Citation232 U.S. 383,34 S.Ct. 341,58 L.Ed. 652
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Martin J. O'Donnell for plaintiff in error.

[Argument of Counsel from page 384 intentionally omitted] Assistant Attorney General Denison and Solicitor General Davis for defendant in error.

[Argument of Counsel from page 385 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice Day delivered the opinion of the court:

An indictment was returned against the plaintiff in error, defendant below, and herein so designated, in the district court of the United States for the western district of Missouri, containing nine counts. The seventh count, upon which a conviction was had, charged the use of the mails for the purpose of transporting certain coupons or tickets representing chances or shares in a lottery or gift enterprise, in violation of § 213 of the Criminal Code [35 Stat. at L. 1129, chap. 321, U. S. Comp. Stat. Supp. 1911, p. 1652]. Sentence of fine and imprisonment was imposed. This writ of error is to review that judgment.

The defendant was arrested by a police officer, so far as the record shows, without warrant, at the Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri, where he was employed by an express company. Other police officers had gone to the house of the defendant, and being told by a neighbor where the key was kept, found it and entered the house. They searched the defendant's room and took possession of various papers and articles found there, which were afterwards turned over to the United States marshal. Later in the same day police officers returned with the marshal, who thought he might find additional evidence, and, being admitted by someone in the house, probably a boarder, in response to a rap, the marshal searched the defendant's room and carried away certain letters and envelops found in the drawer of a chiffonier. Neither the marshal nor the police officer had a search warrant.

The defendant filed in the cause before the time for trial the following petition:

Petition to Return Private Papers, Books, and Other Property.

Now comes defendant and states that he is a citizen and resident of Kansas City, Missouri, and that he resides, owns, and occupies a home at 1834 Penn street in said city:

That on the 21st day of December, 1911, while plaintiff was absent at his daily vocation, certain officers of the government whose names are to plaintiff unknown, unlawfully and without warrant or authority so to do, broke open the door to plaintiff's said home and seized all of his books, letters, money, papers, notes, evidences of indebtedness, stock, certificates, insurance policies, deeds, abstracts, and other muniments of title, bonds, candies, clothes, and other property in said home, and this in violation of §§ 11 and 23 to the Constitution of Missouri, and of the 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States;

That the district attorney, marshal, and clerk of the United States court for the western district of Missouri took the above-described property so seized into their possession, and have failed and refused to return to defendant portion of same, to wit:

One (1) leather grip, value about $7; one (1) tin box valued at $3; one (1) Pettis county, Missouri, bond, value $500; three (3) mining stock certificates which defendant is unable to more particularly describe, valued at $12,000; and certain stock certificates in addition thereto, issued by the San Domingo Mining, Loan, & Investment Company; about $75 in currency; one (1) newspaper published about 1790, an heirloom; and certain other property which plaintiff is now unable to describe.

That said property is being unlawfully and improperly held by said district attorney, marshal, and clerk, in violation of defendant's rights under the Constitution of the United States and the state of Missouri.

That said district attorney purposes to use said books, letters, papers, certificates of stock, etc., at the trial of the above-entitled cause, and that by reason thereof and of the facts above set forth defendant's rights under the amendments aforesaid to the Constitution of Missouri and the United States have been and will be violated unless the court order the return prayed for;

Wherefore, defendant prays that said district attorney, marshal, and clerk be notified, and that the court direct and order said district attorney, marshal, and clerk, to return said property to said defendant.

Upon consideration of the petition the court entered in the cause an order directing the return of such property as was not pertinent to the charge against the defendant, but denied the petition as to pertinent matter, reserving the right to pass upon the pertinency at a later time. In obedience to the order the district attorney returned part of the property taken, and retained the remainder, concluding a list of the latter with the statement that, 'all of which last above described property is to be used in evidence in the trial of the above-entitled cause, and pertains to the alleged sale of lottery tickets of the company above named.'

After the jury had been sworn and before any evidence had been given, the defendant again urged his petition for the return of his property, which was denied by the court. Upon the introduction of such papers during the trial, the defendant objected on the ground that the papers had been obtained without a search warrant, and by breaking open his home, in violation of the 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, which objection was overruled by the court. Among the papers retained and put in evidence were a number of lottery tickets and statements with reference to the lottery, taken at the first visit of the police to the defendant's room, and a number of letters written to the defendant in respect to the lottery, taken by the marshal upon his search of defendant's room.

The defendant assigns error, among other things, in the court's refusal to grant his petition for the return of his property, and in permitting the papers to be used at the trial.

It is thus apparent that the question presented involves the determination of the duty of the court with reference to the motion made by the defendant for the return of certain letters, as well as other papers, taken from his room by the United States marshal, who, without authority of process, if any such could have been legally issued, visited the room of the defendant for the declared purpose of obtaining additional testimony to support the charge against the accused, and, having gained admission to the house, took from the drawer of a chiffonier there found certain letters written to the defendant, tending to show his guilt. These letters were placed in the control of the district attorney, and were subsequently produced by him and offered in evidence against the accused at the trial. The defendant contends that such appropriation of his private correspondence was in violation of rights secured to him by the 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. We shall deal with the 4th Amendment, which 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.'

The history of this Amendment is given with particularity in the opinion of Mr. Justice Bradley, speaking for the court in Boyd v. United States, 116 U. S. 616, 29 L. ed. 746, 6 Sup. Ct. Rep. 524. As was there shown, it took its origin in the determination of the framers of the Amendments to the Federal Constitution to provide for that instrument a Bill of Rights, securing to the American people, among other things, those safeguards which had grown up in England to protect the people from unreasonable searches and seizures, such as were permitted under the general warrants issued under authority of the government, by which there had been invasions of the home and privacy of the citizens, and the seizure of their private papers in support of charges, real or imaginary, make against them. Such practices had also received sanction under warrants and seizures under the so-called writs of assistance, issued in the American colonies. See 2 Watson, Const. 1414 et seq. Resistance to these practices had established the principle which was enacted into the fundamental law in the 4th Amendment, that a man's house was his castle, and not to be invaded by any general authority to search and seize his goods and papers. Judge Cooley, in his Constitutional Limitations, pp. 425, 426, in treating of this feature of our Constitution said: 'The maxim that 'every man's house is his castle' is made a part of our constitutional law in the clauses prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures, and has always been looked upon as of high value to the citizen.' 'Accordingly,' says Lieber in his work on Civil Liberty and Self-Government, 62, in speaking of the English law in this respect, 'no man's house can be forcibly opened, or he or his goods be carried away after it has thus been forced, except in cases of felony; and then the sheriff must be furnished with a warrant, and take great care lest he commit a trespass. This principle is jealously insisted upon.' In Ex parte Jackson, 96 U. S. 727, 733, 24 L. ed. 877, 879, this court recognized the principle of protection as applicable to letters and sealed packages in the mail, and held that, consistently with this guaranty of the right of the people to be secure in their papers against unreasonable searches and seizures, such matter could only be opened and examined upon warrants issued on oath or affirmation, particularly describing the thing to be seized, 'as is required when papers are subjected to...

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