Giordenello v. United States

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation357 U.S. 480,78 S.Ct. 1245,2 L.Ed.2d 1503
Docket NumberNo. 549,549
PartiesVeto GIORDENELLO, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES of America
Decision Date30 June 1958

Mr. William F. Walsh, Houston, Tex., for petitioner.

Mr. John L. Murphy, for respondent.

Mr. Justice HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner was convicted of the unlawful purchase of narcotics, see 26 U.S.C. (Supp. V) § 4704, 26 U.S.C.A. § 4704, after a trial without a jury before the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas. A divided Court of Appeals affirmed. 5 Cir., 241 F.2d 575. We granted certiorari to consider petitioner's challenge to the legality of his arrest and the admissibility in evidence of the narcotics seized from his person at the time of the arrest. 355 U.S. 811, 78 S.Ct. 66, 2 L.Ed.2d 30.

Agent Finley of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics obtained a warrant for the arrest of petitioner from the United States Commissioner in Houston, Texas, on January 26, 1956. This warrant, issued under Rules 3 and 4 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, 18 U.S.C.A. (see note 3, infra), was based on a written complaint, sworn to by Finley, which read in part:

'The undersigned complainant (Finley) being duly sworn states: That on or about January 26, 1956, at Houston, Texas in the Southern District of Texas, Veto Giordenello did receive, conceal, etc., narcotic drugs, to-wit: heroin hydrochloride with knowledge of unlawful importation; in violation of Section 174, Title 21, United States Code.

'And the complainant further states that he believes that _ _ _ _ are material witnesses in relation to this charge.'

About 6 o'clock in the afternoon of the following day, January 27, Finley saw petitioner drive up to his residence in a car and enter the house. He emerged shortly thereafter and drove away in the same car, closely followed in a second car by a person described by Finley as a 'well-known police character.' Finley pursued the cars until they stopped near another residence which was entered by petitioner. When petitioner left this residence, carrying a brown paper bag in his hand, and proceeded towards his car, Finley executed the arrest warrant and seized the bag, which proved to contain a mixture of heroin and other substances. Although warned of his privilege to remain silent, petitioner promptly admitted purchasing the heroin in Chicago and transporting it to Houston.

On January 28 petitioner appeared with counsel before a United States Commissioner. He waived the preliminary examination contemplated by Rule 5 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure, see 357 U.S. 483, 78 S.Ct. 1249, infra, and was arraigned on the complaint upon which the arrest warrant had been issued on January 26.1 Prior to trial petitioner, alleging for the first time that his arrest and the coincident seizure from his person of the paper bag were illegal, moved to suppress for use as evidence the heroin found in the bag. This motion was denied by the District Court, and petitioner's conviction and its affirmance by the Court of Appeals followed.

In this Court petitioner argues, as he did below, that Finley's seizure of the heroin was unlawful, since the warrant of arrest was illegal and the seizure could be justified only as incident to a legal arrest, and that consequently the admission of the heroin into evidence was error which requires that his conviction be set aside. The Government contends that petitioner waived his right to challenge the legality of his arrest, and hence to object to the admissibility of this evidence, by failing to question the sufficiency of the warrant at the time he was brought before the United States Commissioner. It further asserts that the arrest warrant satisfied the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, and, alternatively, that the arrest can be sustained apart from the warrant because Finley had probable cause to believe that petitioner had committed a felony. The Government recognizes that since Finley had no search warrant, the heroin was admissible in evidence only if its seizure was incident to a lawful arrest, see United States v. Rabinowitz, 339 U.S. 56, 60, 70 S.Ct. 430, 432, 94 L.Ed. 653, and that if the arrest was illegal the admission of this evidence was reversible error.


We think it clear that petitioner, by waiving preliminary examination before the United States Commissioner, did not surrender his right subsequently to contest in court the validity of the warrant on the grounds here asserted. A claim of this nature may involve legal issues of subtlety and complexity which it would be unfair to require a defendant to present so soon after arrest, and in many instances, as here, before his final selection of counsel.

In addition, examination of the purpose of the preliminary examination before a Commissioner makes evident the unsoundness of the Government's position. Rule 5(c) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides in part:

'If from the evidence it appears to the commissioner that there is probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed and that the defendant has committed, it, the commissioner shall forthwith hold him to answer in the district court; otherwise the commissioner shall discharge him.'

By waiving preliminary examination, a defendant waives no more than the right which this examination was intended to secure him—the right not to be held in the absence of a finding by the Commissioner of probable cause that he has committed an offense.

By the same token, the Commissioner here had no authority to adjudicate the admissibility at petitioner's later trial of the heroin taken from his person. That issue was for the trial court. This is specifically recognized by Rule 41(e) of the Criminal Rules, which provides that a defendant aggrieved by an unlawful search and seizure may '* * * move the district court * * * to suppress for use as evidence anything so obtained on the ground that * * *' the arrest warrant was defective on any of several grounds. This was the procedural path followed by petitioner, and we hold it proper to put in issue the legality of the warrant. Cf. Albrecht v. United States, 273 U.S. 1, 9—11, 47 S.Ct. 250, 253, 71 L.Ed. 505.


Petitioner challenges the sufficiency of the warrant on two grounds: (1) that the complaint on which the warrant was issued was inadequate because the complaining officer, Finley, relied exclusively upon hearsay information rather than personal knowledge in executing the complaint; and (2) that the complaint was in any event defective in that it in effect recited no more than the elements of the crime charged, namely the concealment of heroin with knowledge of its illegal importation in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 174, 21 U.S.C.A. § 174. 2

It appears from Finley's testimony at the hearing on the suppression motion that until the warrant was issued on January 26 his suspicions of petitioner's guilt derived entirely from information given him by law enforcement officers and other persons in Houston, none of whom either appeared before the Commissioner or submitted affidavits. But we need not decide whether a warrant may be issued solely on hearsay information, for in any event we find this complaint defective in not providing a sufficient basis upon which a finding of probable cause could be made.

Criminal Rules 3 and 4 provide that an arrest warrant shall be issued only upon a written and sworn complaint (1) setting forth 'the essential facts constituting the offense charged,' and (2) showing 'that there is probable cause to believe that (such) an offense has been committed and that the defendant has committed it * * *.'3 The provisions of these Rules must be read in light of the constitutional requirements they implement. The language of the Fourth Amendment, that '* * * no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing * * * the persons or things to be seized * * *,' of course applies to arrest as well as search warrants. See Ex parte Burford, 3 Cranch 448, 2 L.Ed. 495; McGrain v. Daugherty, 273 U.S. 135, 154—157, 47 S.Ct. 319, 323, 71 L.Ed. 580. The protection afforded by these Rules, when they are viewed against their constitutional background, is that the inferences from the facts which lead to the complaint '* * * be drawn by a neutral and detached magistrate instead of being judged by the officer engaged in the often competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime.' Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 14, 68 S.Ct. 367, 369, 92 L.Ed. 436. The purpose of the complaint, then, is to enable the appropriate magistrate, here a Commissioner, to determine whether the 'probable cause' required to support a warrant exists. The Commissioner must judge for himself the persuasiveness of the facts relied on by a complaining officer to show probable cause. He should not accept without question the complainant's mere conclusion that the person whose arrest is sought has committed a crime.

When the complaint in this case is judged with these considerations in mind, it is clear that it does not pass muster because it does not provide any basis for the Commissioner's determination under Rule 4 that probable cause existed. The complaint contains no affirmative allegation that the affiant spoke with personal knowledge of the matters contained therein; it does not indicate any sources for the complainant's belief; and it does not set forth any other sufficient basis upon which a finding of probable cause could be made. We think these deficiencies could not be cured by the Commissioner's reliance upon a presumption that the complaint was made on the personal knowledge of the complaining officer. The insubstantiality of such an argument is illustrated by the facts of this very case, for Finley's testimony at the suppression hearing clearly showed that he had no personal knowledge of the matters on which his charge was based. In these circumstances, it is...

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