Lee v. State of Florida, No. 174

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSTEWART
Citation392 U.S. 378,20 L.Ed.2d 1166,88 S.Ct. 2096
Decision Date17 June 1968
Docket NumberNo. 174
PartiesClyde Franklin LEE et al., Petitioners, v. STATE OF FLORIDA

392 U.S. 378
88 S.Ct. 2096
20 L.Ed.2d 1166
Clyde Franklin LEE et al., Petitioners,

v.

STATE OF FLORIDA.

No. 174.
Argued May 2, 1968.
Decided June 17, 1968.

Edward R. Kirkland, Orlando, Fla., for petitioners.

Wallace E. Allbritton, Tallahassee, Fla., for respondent.

Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The three petitioners were convicted in a Florida trial court for violating the state lottery laws. Their con-

Page 379

victions were affirmed by a Florida district court of appeal,1 and the Supreme Court of Florida denied further review. We granted certiorari to consider the application of § 605 of the Federal Communications Act of 1934, 48 Stat. 1103, 47 U.S.C. § 605, to the circumstances of this case.2 That statute provides:

'(N)o person not being authorized by the sender shall intercept any communication and divulge * * * the existence, contents, substance, purport, effect, or meaning of such intercepted communication to any person * * *.'

In the summer of 1963 petitioner Lee ordered the installation of a private telephone in the house where he lived near Orlando, Florida. The local telephone company informed him that no private lines were available, and he was given a telephone on a four-party line instead. A week later, at the direction of the Orlando police department, the company connected a telephone in a neighboring house to the same party line.3 The police attached to this telephone an automatic actuator, a tape recorder, and a set of earphones. The equipment was connected directly to the wall outlet in such a way that the police could hear and record all conversations on the party line without the necessity of lifting the receiver on their telephone. This arrangement not only afforded the police continuous access to all of Lee's outgoing and incoming calls, but also eliminated the telltale 'click' that would otherwise have warned conversing parties that someone else on the line had picked up a receiver.

Page 380

Further, the arrangement insured that noises in the house occupied by the police would not be heard by anyone else on the line. For more than a week the police used this equipment to overhear and record telephone calls to and from Lee's residence, including calls made to Lee by the other two petitioners from private as well as public telephones.

At the petitioners' trial, several of these recordings were introduced in evidence by the prosecution over objection by defense counsel. In affirming the convictions, the state appellate court said that 'there were no state or federal statutes applicable in Florida which would make wiretapping illegal and inadmissible in evidence * * *.'4

We disagree. There clearly is a federal statute, applicable in Florida and every other State, that made illegal the conduct of the Orlando authorities in this case. And that statute, we hold today, also made the recordings of the petitioners' telephone conversations inadmissible as evidence in the Florida court.

I.

Section 605 of the Federal Communications Act speaks, not in terms of tapping a wire, but in terms of intercepting and divulging a communication. The State concedes that the police 'divulged' the petitioners' conversations within the meaning of the statute. But, it argues, the police cannot be deemed to have 'intercepted' the

Page 381

telephone conversations, because people who use party lines should realize that their conversations might be overheard.

This is not a case, however, where the police merely picked up the receiver on an ordinary party line, and we need not decide whether § 605 would be applicable in those circumstances.5 For here the police did much more. They deliberately arranged to have a telephone connected to Lee's line without his knowledge, and they altered that connection in such a way as to permit continuous surreptitious surveillance and recording of all conversations on the line. What was done here was a far cry from the police activity in Rathbun v. United States, 355 U.S. 107, 78 S.Ct. 161, 2 L.Ed.2d 134, a case heavily relied upon by the respondent. There we found no interception where 'a communication (is) overheard on a regularly used telephone extension with the consent of one party to the conversation,' ibid., and where the 'extension had not been installed there just for this purpose but was a regular connection, previously placed and normally used.' Id., at 108, 78 S.Ct. at 162. We viewed that situation as though one of the parties to the telephone conversation had simply 'held out his handset so that another could hear out of it.' Id., at 110—111, 78 S.Ct. at 163. In the present case, by contrast, there was neither 'the consent of one party' nor a 'regularly used' telephone 'not * * * installed * * * just for (the) purpose' of surveillance. The conduct of the Orlando

Page 382

police, deliberately planned and carried out, clearly amounted to interception of the petitioners' communications within the meaning of § 605 of the Federal Communications Act.6

II.

The remaining question is whether the recordings that the police obtained by intercepting the petitioners' telephone conversations were admissible in evidence in the Florida trial court, notwithstanding the express prohibition of federal law against divulgence of recordings so procured.

Section 605 was enacted as part of the Federal Communications Act of 1934, 48 Stat. 1103, six years after the Court had said in Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 465, 48 S.Ct. 564, 568, 72 L.Ed. 944, that 'Congress may of course (legislate to) protect the secrecy of telephone messages by making them, when intercepted, inadmissible in evidence * * *.' In Nardone v. United States, 302 U.S. 379, 58 S.Ct. 275, 82 L.Ed. 314, the Court was first called upon to decide whether § 605 had indeed served to render evidence of intercepted communications inadmissible in a federal trial. In that case the Government urged that 'a construction be given the section which would exclude federal agents since it is improbable Congress intended to hamper and impede the activities of the government in the detection and punishment of crime.' 302 U.S., at 383, 58 S.Ct. at 277. In reversing the judgment of conviction, the Court's answer to that argument was unequivocal:

'(T)he plain words of section 605 forbid anyone, unless authorized by the sender, to intercept a telephone message, and direct in equally clear language that 'no person' shall divulge or publish the message or its

Page 383

substance to 'any person.' To recite the contents of the message in testimony before a court is to divulge the message. The conclusion that the act forbids such testimony seems to us unshaken by the government's arguments.

'Congress may have thought it less important that some offenders should go unwhipped of justice than that officers should resort to methods deemed practices and procedures violative of inconsistent with ethical standards and destructive of personal liberty. The same considerations may well have moved the Congress to adopt section 605 as evoked the guaranty against privacy, embodied in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution.' 302 U.S., at 382, 383, 58 S.Ct. at 276.

Fifteen years later, in Schwartz v. State of Texas, 344 U.S. 199, 73 S.Ct. 232, 97 L.Ed. 231, the Court considered the question whether, despite § 605, telephone communications intercepted by state officers could lawfully be received in evidence in state criminal trials. That case was decided in the shadow of Wolf v. People of State of Colorado, 338 U.S. 25, 69 S.Ct. 1359, 93 L.Ed. 1782, which shortly before had held that 'in a prosecution in a State court for a State crime the Fourteenth Amendment does not forbid the admission of evidence obtained by an unreasonable search and seizure.' 338 U.S., at 33, 69 S.Ct. at 1364. The Court in Schwartz recognized that the problem before it was 'somewhat different' from the one that had been presented in Wolf, 'because the introduction of the intercepted communications would itself be a violation' of federal law. 344 U.S., at 201, 73 S.Ct. at 234. But the Court nonetheless concluded that state trial courts were not required to reject evidence violative of § 605. For if, as Wolf had held, state courts were free to accept evidence obtained in violation of the Federal Constitution, the

Page 384

Court reasoned that they could not be required to reject evidence obtained and divulged in violation of a federal statute. That was the thrust of the Schwartz opinion:

'Although the intercepted calls would be inadmissible in a federal...

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130 practice notes
  • State v. DeMartin
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • September 7, 1976
    ...97 A.L.R.2d 1283. Recordings of conversations intercepted illegally under § 605 were held admissible in state courts in Lee v. Florida, 392 U.S. 378, 386-87, 88 S.Ct. 2096, 20 L.Ed.2d 1166, which overruled Schwartz v. Texas, 344 U.S. 199, 73 S.Ct. 232, 97 L.Ed. 231, and brought this area of......
  • State v. Brown
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • January 26, 1971
    ...the Supreme Court of the United States would limit the new doctrine to prospective application. DeStefano, supra, 392 U.S. 634, 635, 88 S.Ct. 2096. The doctrine of O'Connor does not fall into such an extreme category. It is precise and clear and since its advent in 1966 there have only been......
  • People v. Otto, No. S019773
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • July 9, 1992
    ...latter, by contrast, requires no supervision, is of potentially unlimited duration, and is wholly indiscriminate. (Lee v. Florida (1968) 392 U.S. 378, 381, 88 S.Ct. 2096, 2098, 20 L.Ed.2d 1166; United States v. Jones, supra, 542 F.2d at p. 673, fn. 24; Kratz v. Kratz, supra, 477 F.Supp. at ......
  • Johnson, In re, Cr. 13672
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • October 29, 1970
    ...on guilt or the reliability of the process by which it is tested. The same reasoning denied retroactive effect to Lee v. Florida (1968) 392 U.S. 378, 88 S.Ct. 2096, 20 L.Ed.2d 1166 (evidence seized in violation of section 605 of the Federal Page 574 [475 P.2d 846] Communications Act is inad......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
130 cases
  • State v. DeMartin
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • September 7, 1976
    ...97 A.L.R.2d 1283. Recordings of conversations intercepted illegally under § 605 were held admissible in state courts in Lee v. Florida, 392 U.S. 378, 386-87, 88 S.Ct. 2096, 20 L.Ed.2d 1166, which overruled Schwartz v. Texas, 344 U.S. 199, 73 S.Ct. 232, 97 L.Ed. 231, and brought this area of......
  • State v. Brown
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • January 26, 1971
    ...the Supreme Court of the United States would limit the new doctrine to prospective application. DeStefano, supra, 392 U.S. 634, 635, 88 S.Ct. 2096. The doctrine of O'Connor does not fall into such an extreme category. It is precise and clear and since its advent in 1966 there have only been......
  • People v. Otto, No. S019773
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • July 9, 1992
    ...latter, by contrast, requires no supervision, is of potentially unlimited duration, and is wholly indiscriminate. (Lee v. Florida (1968) 392 U.S. 378, 381, 88 S.Ct. 2096, 2098, 20 L.Ed.2d 1166; United States v. Jones, supra, 542 F.2d at p. 673, fn. 24; Kratz v. Kratz, supra, 477 F.Supp. at ......
  • Johnson, In re, Cr. 13672
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • October 29, 1970
    ...on guilt or the reliability of the process by which it is tested. The same reasoning denied retroactive effect to Lee v. Florida (1968) 392 U.S. 378, 88 S.Ct. 2096, 20 L.Ed.2d 1166 (evidence seized in violation of section 605 of the Federal Page 574 [475 P.2d 846] Communications Act is inad......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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