Harris v. United States

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation331 U.S. 145,91 L.Ed. 1399,67 S.Ct. 1098
Docket NumberNo. 34,34
Decision Date05 May 1947

Messrs. Roy St. Lewis, of Washington, D.C., and Herbert K. Hyde, of Oklahoma City, Okl., for petitioner.

Mr. Frederick Bernays Wiener, of Providence, R.I., for respondent.

Mr. Chief Justice VINSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner was convicted on sixteen counts of an indictment1 charging the unlawful possession, concealment and

alteration of certain Notice of Classification Cards and Registration Certificates in violation of § 11 of the Selective Raining and Service Act of 1940,2 and of § 48 of the Criminal Code.3 Prior to the trial, petitioner moved to suppress the evidence, which served as the basis for the conviction, on the grounds that it had been obtained by means of an unreasonable search and seizure contrary to the provisions of the Fourth Amendment4 and that to permit the introduction of that evidence would be to violate the self-incrimination clause of the Fifth Amend-

ment.5 The motion to suppress was denied, and petitioner's numerous objections to the evidence at the trial were overruled. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. 10 Cir., 151 F.2d 837. Certiorari was granted because of the importance of the questio § presented. 66 S.Ct. 1360.

Two valid warrants of arrest were issued. One charged that petitioner and one Moffett had violated the Mail Fraud Statute6 by causing a letter addressed to the Guaranty Trust Company of New York to be placed in the mails for the purpose of cashing a forged check for $25,000 drawn on the Mudge Oil Company in pursuance of a scheme to defraud. The second warrant charged that petitioner and Moffett, with intent to defraud certain banks and the Mudge Oil Company, had caused a $25,000 forged check to be transported in interstate commerce, in violation of § 3 of the National Stolen Property Act.7

Five agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, acting under the authority of the two warrants, went to the apartment of petitioner in Oklahoma City and there arrested him. The apartment consisted of a living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. Following the arrest, which took place in the living room, petitioner was handcuffed and a search of the entire apartment was undertaken. The agents stated that the object of the search was to find two $10,000 canceled checks of the Mudge Oil Company which had been stolen from that company's office and which were thought to have been used in effecting the forgery. There was evidence connecting petitioner with that theft. In addition, the search was said to be for the purpose of locating 'any means that might

be used to commit these wo crimes, such as burglary tools, pens, or anything that could be used in a confidence game of this type.'8

One agent was assigned to each room of the apartment and, over petitioner's protest, a careful and thorough search proceeded for approximately five hours. As the search neared its end, one of the agents discovered in a bedroom bureau drawer a sealed envelope marked 'George Harris, personal papers.' The envelope was torn open and on the inside a smaller envelope was found containing eight Notice of Classification cards and 11 Registration Certificates bearing the stamp of Local Board No. 7 of Oklahoma County. It was this evidence upon which the conviction in the District Court was based and against which the motion to suppress was directed. It is conceded that the evidence is in no way related to the crimes for which petitioner was initially arrested and that the search which led to its discovery was not conducted under the authority of a search warrant.9

In denying the motion to suppress the District Court wrote no opinion. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed

the conviction, finding that the search was carried on in good faith by the federal agents for the purposes expressed, that it was not a general exploratory search for merely evidentiary materials, and that the search and seizure were a reasonable incident to petitioner's arrest. 10

If it is true, as petitioner contends, that the draft cards were seized in violation of petitioner's rights under the Fourth Amendment, the conviction based upon evidence so obtained cannot be sustained. Boyd v. United States, 1886, 116 U.S. 616, 6 S.Ct. 524, 29 L.Ed. 746; Weeks v. United States, 1914, 232 U.S. 383, 34 S.Ct. 341, 58 L.Ed. 652, L.R.A.1915B, 834, Ann.Cas.1915C, 1177; Agnello v. United States, 1925, 269 U.S. 20, 46 S.Ct. 4, 70 L.Ed. 145; Segurola v. United States, 1927, 275 U.S. 106, 48 S.Ct. 77, 72 L.Ed. 186. This Court has consistently asserted that the rights of privacy and personal security protected by the Fourth Amendment '* * * 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 * * *'. Gouled v. United States, 1921, 255 U.S. 298, 304, 41 S.Ct. 261, 263, 65 L.Ed. 647.

This Court has also pointed out that it is only unreasonable searches and seizures which come within the constitutional interdict. The test of reasonableness cannot be stated in rigid and absolute terms. 'Each case is to be decided on its own facts and circumstances.' Go-Bart Importing Company v. United States, 1931, 282 U.S. 344, 357, 51 S.Ct. 153, 158, 75 L.Ed. 374.

The Fourth Amendment has never been held to require that every valid search and seizure be effected under the authority of a search warrant. Search and seizure incident to lawful arrest is a practice of ancient origin11 and has long been an integral part of the law-enforcement

procedures of the United States12 and of the individual states.13

The opinions of this Court have clearly recognized that the search incident to arrest may, under appropriate circumstances, extend beyond the person of the one arrested to include the premises under his immediate control. Thus in Agnello v. United States, supra, 269 U.S. at page 30, 46 S.Ct. at page 5, 70 L.Ed. 145, it was said: 'The right without a search warrant contemporaneously to search persons lawfully arrested while committing crime and to search the place where the arrest is made in order to find and seize things connected with the crime as its fruits or as the means by which it was committed, as well as weapons and other things of effect an escape from custody is not to be doubted.'14 It is equally clear that a search incident to arrest, which is otherwise reasonable, is not automatically rendered invalid by the fact that a dwelling place, as contrasted to a business premises, is subjected to search. 15

Nor can support be found for the suggestion that the search could not validly extend beyond the room in which petitioner was arrested.16 Petitioner was in exclusive possession of a four room apartment. His control extended quite as much to the bedroom in which the draft cards were found as to the living room in which he was arrested. The canceled checks and other instrumentalities of the crimes charged in the warrants could easily have been concealed in any of the four rooms of the apartment. Other situations may arise in which the nature and size of the object sought or the lack of effective control over the premises on the part of the persons arrested may require that the searches be less extensive. But the area which reasonably may be subjected to search is not to be determined by the fortuitous circumstance that the arrest took place in the living room as contrasted to some other room of the apartment.

Similar considerations are applicable in evaluating petitioner's contention that the search was, in any even , too intensive. Here again we must look to the particular circumstances of the particular case. As was observed by the Circuit Court of Appeals (151 F.2d 837, 840): 'It is not likely that the checks would be visibly accessible. By their very nature they would have been kept in some secluded spot * * *.' The same meticulous investigation which would be appropriate in a search for two small canceled checks could not be considered reasonable where agents are seeking a stolen automobile or an illegal still. We do not believe that

the search in this case went beyond that which the situation reasonably demanded.

This is not a case in which law enforcement officials have invaded a private dwelling without authority and seized evidence of crime. Amos v. United States, 1921, 255 U.S. 313, 41 S.Ct. 266, 65 L.Ed. 654; Byars v. United States, 1927, 273 U.S. 28, 47 S.Ct. 248, 71 L.Ed. 520; Nueslein v. District of Columbia, 1940, 73 App.D.C. 85, 115 F.2d 690. Here the agents entered the apartment under the authority of lawful warrants of arrest. Neither was the entry tortious nor was the arrest which followed in any sense illegal.

Nor is this a case in which law enforcement officers have entered premises ostensibly for the purpose of making an arrest but in reality for the purpose of conducting a general exploratory search for merely evidentiary materials tending to connect the accused with some crime. Go-Bart Company v. United States, supra; Lefkowitz v. United States, supra. In the present case the agents were in possession of facts indicating petitioner's probable guilt of the crimes for which the warrants of arrest were issued. The search was not a general exploration but was specifically directed to the means and instrumentalities by which the crimes charged had been committed, particularly the two canceled checks of the Mudge Oil Company. The Circuit Court of Appeals found and the District Court acted on the assumption that the agents conducted their search in good faith for the purpose of discovering the objects specified. That determination is supported by the record. The two canceled checks were stolen from the offices of the Mudge Oil Company. There was evidence...

To continue reading

Request your trial
1059 cases
  • People v. Brooks, Cr. 4604
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 26, 1965
    ......Lynch, Atty. Gen., of California. Albert W. Harris, Jr., John F. Kraetzer, Deputy Attys. Gen., San Francisco, for ...Roberts (1956) 47 Cal.2d 374, 379, 303 P.2d 721; and Harris v. United States (1947) 331 U.S. 145, 154, 67 S.Ct. 1098, 91 L.Ed. 1399), nor does ...Kessler (1963) 221 Cal.App.2d [234 Cal.App.2d 684] 187, 191-192, 34 Cal.Rptr. 433.) Here, however, no reference was made to the earlier ......
  • People v. Gilbert, Cr. 8690
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • December 15, 1965
    ......454, 402 P.2d 142; People v. Ibarra, 60 Cal.2d 460, 463, 34 Cal.Rptr. 863, 386 P.2d 487; People v. Dixon, 46 Cal.2d 456, 458, 296 P.2d ...State of California, 374 U.S. 23, 83 S.Ct. 1623, 10 L.Ed.2d 726; Harris v. United States, 331 U.S. 145, 67 S.Ct. 1098, 91 L.Ed. 1399; People v. ......
  • People v. Pace, Cr. 17911
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • April 23, 1979
    ...... (Fourth Amendment, United States Constitution; Article I, section 13, California Constitution.). ...Rabinowitz (1950) 339 U.S. 56, 70 S.Ct. 430, 94 L.Ed. 653 and Harris v. United States (1947) 331 U.S. 145, 67 S.Ct. 1098, 91 L.Ed. 1399, and ......
  • First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. Los Angeles County
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • April 24, 1957
    ...... organization which advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States or the [48 Cal.2d 425] State by force or violence or other unlawful ...524, 29 L.Ed. 746, in Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 34 S.Ct. 341, 58 L.Ed. [48 Cal.2d 457] 652, and in Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. ... of an Assistant Secretary of Labor.' Frankfurther, J., dissenting, Harris v. United States, 1947, 331 U.S. 145, 173, 67 S.Ct. 1098, 1112, 91 L.Ed. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles
    • United States
    • Case Western Reserve Law Review Vol. 71 No. 1, September 2020
    • September 22, 2020
    ...total atmosphere of the case"), overruled on other grounds by Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752 (1969), and Harris v. United States, 331 U.S. 145, 150 (1947) (noting that "[t]he Fourth Amendment has never been held to require that every valid search and seizure be effected under the author......
  • 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
    ...Rutledge, JJ., On the other hand, in dealing with dissenting, Jackson, J., not participating; Har- state ris v. United cases, the States, 331 U. S. 145 (1947)— Supreme Court has Frankfurter, Jackson, Murphy, Rutledge, JJ., adopted no such simple rule. Due proc- dissenting; United Stat......
  • Mr. Justice Jackson and the Supreme Court
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly No. 1-3, September 1948
    • September 1, 1948
    ...meaning to the privileges and im- munities clause lest it improvidently give too much." Ibid., p. 182. 45 Ibid., p. 186.46 Harris v. U.S., 331 U.S. 145 (1947). 47 67 Sup. Ct. 1098, p. 1120. See also Jackson’s opinions for the majority reversing convictions based on evidence obtained by unre......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT