Ker v. State of California

Decision Date10 June 1963
Docket NumberNo. 53,53
Citation374 U.S. 23,10 L.Ed.2d 726,83 S.Ct. 1623
PartiesGeorge D. KER et al., Petitioners, v. STATE OF CALIFORNIA
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Robert W. Stanley, Los Angeles, Cal., for petitioners.

Gordon Ringer, Los Angeles, Cal., for respondent.

Mr. Justice CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court with reference to the standard by which state searches and seizures must be evaluated (Part I), together with an opinion applying that standard, in which Mr. Justice BLACK, Mr. Justice STEWART and Mr. Justice WHITE join (Parts II—V), and announced the judgment of the Court.

This case raises search and seizure questions under the rule of Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684 , 6 L.Le.2d 1081 (1961). Petitioners, husband and wife, were convicted of possession of marijuana in violation of § 11530 of the California Health and Safety Code. The California District Court of Appeal affirmed, 195 Cal.App.2d 246, 15 Cal.Rptr. 767, despite the contention of petitioners that their arrests in their apartment without warrants lacked probable cause1 and the evidence seized incident thereto and introduced at their trial was therefore inadmissible. The California Supreme Court denied without opinion a petition for hearing. This being the first case arriving here since our opinion in Mapp which would afford suitable opportunity for further explication of that holding in the light of intervening experience, we granted certiorari. 368 U.S. 974, 82 S.Ct. 480, 7 L.Ed.2d 437. We affirm the judgment before us.

The state courts' conviction and affirmance are based on these events, which culminated in the petitioners' arrests. Sergeant Cook of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, in negotiating the purchase of marijuana from one Terrhagen, accompanied him to a bowling alley about 7 p.m. on July 26, 1960, where they were to meet Terrhagen's 'connection.' Therrhagen went inside and returned shortly, pointing to a 1946 DeSoto as his 'connection's' automobile and explaining that they were to meet him 'up by the oil fields' near Fairfax and Slauson Avenues in Los Angeles. As they neared that location, Terrhagen again pointed out the DeSoto traveling ahead of them, stating that the 'connection' kept his supply of narcotics 'somewhere up in the hills.' They parked near some vacant fields in the vicinity of the intersection of Fairfax and Slauson, and, shortly thereafter, the DeSoto reappeared and pulled up beside them. The deputy then recognized the driver as one Roland Murphy, whose 'mug' photograph he had seen and whom he knew from other narcotics officers to be a large-scale seller of marijuana currently out on bail in connection with narcotics charges.

Terrhagen entered the DeSoto and drove off toward the oil fields with Murphy, while the Sergeant waited. They returned shortly, Terrhagen left Murphy's car carrying a package of marijuana and entered his own vehicle, and they drove to Terrhagen's residence. There Terrhagen cut one pound of marijuana and gave it to Sergeant Cook, who had previously paid him. The Sergeant later reported this occurrence to Los Angles County Officers Berman and Warthen, the latter of whom had observed the occurrences as well.

On the following day, July 27, Murphy was placed under surveillance. Officer Warthen, who had observed the Terrhagen-Murphy episode the previous night, and Officer Markman were assigned this duty. At about 7 p.m. that evening they followed Murphy's DeSoto as he drove to the same bowling alley in which he had met Terrhagen on the previous evening. Murphy went inside, emerged in about 10 minutes and drove to a house where he made a brief visit. The officers continued to follow him but, upon losing sight of his vehicle, proceeded to the vicinity of Fairfax and Slauson Avenues where they parked. There immediately across the street from the location at which Terrhagen and Sergeant Cook had met Murphy on the previous evening, the officers observed a parked automobile whose lone occupant they later determined to be the petitioner George Douglas Ker.

The officers then saw Murphy drive past them. They followed him but lost sight of him when he extinguished his lights and entered the oil fields. The officers returned to their vantage point and, shortly thereafter, observed Murphy return and park behind Ker. From their location approximately 1,000 feet from the two vehicles, they watched through field glasses. Murphy was seen leaving his DeSoto and walking up to the driver's side of Ker's car, where he 'appeared to have conversation with him.' It was shortly before 9 p.m. and the distance in the twilight was too great for the officers to see anything pass between Murphy and Ker or whether the former had anything in his hands as he approached.

While Murphy and Ker were talking, the officers had driven past them in order to see their faces closely and in order to take the license number from Ker's vehicle. Soon thereafter Ker drove away and the officers followed him but lost him when he made a U-turn in the middle of the block and drove in the opposite direction. Now, having lost contact with Ker, they checked the registration with the Department of Motor Vehicles ascertained that the automobile was registered to Douglas Ker at 4801 Slauson. They then communicated this information to Officer Berman, within 15 to 30 minutes after observing the meeting between Ker and Murphy. Though officers Warthen and Markman had no previous knowledge of Ker, Berman had received information at various times beginning in November of 1959 that Ker was selling marijuana from his apartment and that 'he was possibly securing this Marijuana from Ronnie Murphy who is the alias of Roland Murphy.' In early 1960 Officer Berman had received a 'mug' photograph of Ker from the Inglewood Police Department. He further testified that between May and July 27, 1960, he had received information as to Ker from one Robert Black, who had previously given information leading to at least three arrests and whose information was believed by Berman to be reliable. According to Officer Berman, Black had told him on four or five occasions after May 1960 that Ker and others, including himself, had purchased marijuana from Murphy.2 Armed with the knowledge of the meeting between Ker and Murphy and with Berman's information as to Ker's dealings with Murphy, the three officers and a fourth, Officer Love, proceeded immediately to the address which they had obtained through Ker's license number. They found the automobile which they had been following—and which they had learned was Ker's—in the parking lot of the multiple-apartment building and also ascertained that there was someone in the Kers' apartment. They then went to the office of the building manager and obtained from him a passkey to the apartment. Officer Markman was stationed outside the window to intercept any evidence which might be ejected, and the other three officers entered the apartment. Officer Berman unlocked and opened the door, proceeding quietly, he testified, in order to prevent the destruction of evidence,3 and found petitioner George Ker sitting in the living room. Just as he identified himself, stating that 'We are Sheriff's Narcotics Officers, conducting a narcotics investigation,' petitioner Diane Ker emerged from the kitchen. Berman testified that he repeated his identification to her and immediately walked to the kitchen. Without entering, he observed through the open doorway a small scale atop the kitchen sink, upon which lay a 'brick-like—brick-shaped package containing the green leafy substance' which he recognized as marijuana. He beckoned the petitioners into the kitchen where, following their denial of knowledge of the contents of the two-and-two-tenths-pound package and failure to answer a question as to its ownership, he placed them under arrest for suspicion of violating the State Narcotic Law. Officer Markman testified that he entered the apartment approximately 'a minute, minute and a half' after the other officers, at which time Officer Berman was placing the petitioners under arrest. As to this sequence of events, petitioner George Ker testified that his arrest took place immediately upon the officers' entry and before they saw the brick of marijuana in the kitchen.

Subsequent to the arrest and the petitioners' denial of possession of any other narcotics, the officers, proceeding without search warrants, found a half-ounce package of marijuana in the kitchen cupboard and another atop the bedroom dresser. Petitioners were asked if they had any automobile other than the one observed by the officers, and George Ker replied in the negative, while Diane remained silent. On the next day, having learned that an automobile was registered in the name of Diane Ker, Officer Warthen searched this car without a warrant, finding marijuana and marijuana seeds in the glove compartment and under the rear seat. The marijuana found on the kitchen scale, that found in the kitchen cupboard and in the bedroom, and that found in Diane Ker's automobile4 were all introduced into evidence against the petitioners.

The California District Court of Appeal in affirming the convictions found that there was probable cause for the arrests; that the entry into the apartment was for the purpose of arrest and was not unlawful; and that the search being incident to the arrests was likewise lawful and its fruits admissible in evidence against petitioners. These conclusions were essential to the affirmance, since the California Supreme Court in 1955 had held that evi- dence obtained by means of unlawful searches and seizures was inadmissible in criminal trials. People v. Cahan, 44 Cal.2d 434, 282 P.2d 905, 50 A.L.R.2d 513. The court concluded that in view of its findings and the implied findings of the trial court, this Court's intervening decision in Mapp v. Ohio, supra, did 'not justify a change in our original conclusion.' 195 Cal.App.2d, at 257, 15 Cal.Rptr., at...

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