Gouled v. United States

Decision Date28 February 1921
Docket NumberNo. 250,250
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Charles E. Hughes and Martin W. Littleton, both of New York City, for Gouled.

Mr. Solicitor General Frierson, for the United States.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 299-302 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice CLARKE delivered the opinion of the Court.

In a joint indictment the plaintiff in error, Gouled, one Vaughan, an officer of the United States Army, and a third, an attorney at law, were charged in the first count with being parties to a conspiracy to defraud the United States, in violation of section 37 of the federal Criminal Code (Comp. St. § 10201), and, in the second count, with having used the mails to promote a scheme to defraud the United States, in violation of section 215 of that Code (section 10384). Vaughan pleaded guilty, the attorney was acquitted, and Gouled, whom we shall refer to as the defendant, was convicted, and thereupon prosecuted error to the Circuit Court of Appeals, which certifies to this court six questions which we are to consider.

Of these questions, the first two relate to the admission in evidence of a paper surreptitiously taken from the office of the defendant by one acting under direction of officers of the Intelligence Department of the Army of the United States, and the remaining four relate to papers taken from defendant's office under two search warrants, issued pursuant to the Act of June 15, 1917 (40 Stat. 217, 288 [Comp. St. 1918, Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, §§ 10496 1/4 a—10496 1/4 v]). It was objected on the trial, and is here insisted upon, that it was error to admit these papers in evidence because possession of them was obtained by violating the rights secured to the defendant by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.

The Fourth Amendment reads:

'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 warrant 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 part of the Fifth Amendment here involved reads:

'No person * * * shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.'

It would not be possible to add to the emphasis with which the framers of our Constitution and this court (in Boyd v. United States, 116 U. S. 616, 6 Sup. Ct. 524, 29 L. Ed. 746, in Weeks v. United States, 232 U. S. 383, 34 Sup. Ct. 341, 58 L. Ed. 652, L. R. A. 1915B, 834, Ann Cas. 1915C, 1177, and in Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U. S. 385, 40 Sup. Ct. 182, 64 L. Ed. 319) have declared the importance to political liberty and to the welfare of our country of the due observance of the rights guaranteed under the Constitution by these two amendments. The effect of the decisions cited is: That such rights are declared to be indispensable to the 'full enjoyment of personal security, personal liberty and private property'; that they are to be regarded as of the very essence of constitutional liberty; and that the guaranty of them is as important and as imperative as are the guaranties of the other fundamental rights of the individual citizen—the right to trial by jury, to the writ of habeas corpus, and to due process of law. It has been repeatedly decided that these amendments should receive a liberal construction, so as to prevent stealthy encroachment upon or 'gradual depreciation' of the rights secured by them, by imperceptible practice of courts or by well-intentioned, but mistakenly overzealous, executive officers.

In the spirit of these decisions we must deal with the questions before us.

The facts derived from the certificate, cssential to be considered in answering the first two questions, are: That in January, 1918, it was suspected that the defendant, Gouled, and Vaughan were conspiring to defraud the government through contracts with it for clothing and equipment; that one Cohen, a private in the Army, attached to the Intelligence Department, and a business acquaintance of defendant Gouled, under direction of his superior officers, pretending to make a friendly call upon the defendant gained admission to his office and in his absence, without warrant of any character, seized and carried away several documents; that one of these papers, described as 'of evidential value only' and belonging to Gouled, was subsequently delivered to the United States District Attorney, and was by him introduced in evidence over the objection of the defendant that possession of it was obtained by a violation of the Fourth or Fifth Amendment to the Constitution; and that the defendant did not know that Cohen had carried away any of his papers until he appeared on the witness stand and detailed the facts with respect thereto as we have stated them, when, necessarily, objection was first made to the admission of the paper in evidence.

Out of these facts arise the first two questions, both relating to the paper thus seized. The first of these is:

'Is the secret taking, without force, from the house or office of one suspected of crime, of a paper belonging to him, of evidential value only, by a representative of any branch or subdivision of the government of the United States, a violation of the Fourth Amendment?'

The ground on which the trial court overruled the objection to this paper is not stated, but from the certificate and the argument we must infer that it was admitted, either because it appeared that the possession of it was obtained without the use of force or illegal coercion, or because the objection to it came too late.

The objection was not too late, for, coming as it did promptly upon the first notice the defendant had that the government was in possession of the paper, the rule of practice relied upon, that such an objection will not be entertained unless made before trial, was obviously inapplicable.

The prohibition of the Fourth Amendment is against all unreasonable searches and seizures and if for a government officer to obtain entrance to a man's house or office by force or by an illegal threat or show of force, amounting to coercion, and then to search for and seize his private papers would be an unreasonable and therefore a prohibited search and seizure, as it certainly would be, it is impossible to successfully contend that a like search and seizure would be a reasonable one if only admission were obtained by stealth instead of by force or coercion. The secutiry and privacy of the home or office and of the papers of the owner would be as much invaded and the search and seizure would be as much against his will in the one case as in the other, and it must therefore be regarded as equally in violation of his constitutional rights.

Without discussing them, we cannot doubt that such decisions as there are in conflict with this conclusion are unsound, and that, whether entrance to the home or office of a person suspected of crime be obtained by a representative of any branch or subdivision of the government of the United States by stealth, or through social acquaintance, or in the guies of a business call, and whether the owner be present or not when he enters, any search and seizure subsequently and secretly made in his absence, falls within the scope of the prohibition of the Fourth Amendment, and therefore the answer to the first question must be in the affirmative.

The second question reads:

'Is the admission of such paper in evidence against the same person when indicted for crime a violation of the Fifth Amendment?'

Upon authority of the Boyd Case, supra, this second question must also be answered in the affirmative. In practice the result is the same to one accused of crime, whether he be obliged to supply evidence against himself or whether such evidence be obtained by an illegal search of his premises and seizure of his private papers. In either case he is the unwilling source of the evidence, and the Fifth Amendment forbids that he shall be compelled to be a witness against himself in a criminal case.

The remaining four questions relate to three other papers which were admitted in evidence on the trial over the same constitutional objections as were interposed to the admission of the first paper. One was an unexecuted form of contract between the defendant and one Lavinsky; another was a written contract, signed by the defendant and one Steinthal; and the third was a bill for disbursements and professional services rendered by the attorney at law to the defendant Gouled.

Of these papers, the first was seized in defendant's office under a search warrant dated June 17, and the other two under a like warrant dated July 22, 1918, each of which was issued by a United States commissioner on the affidavit of an agent of the Department...

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