United States v. Jeffers

Decision Date13 November 1951
Docket NumberNo. 3,3
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Beatrice Rosenberg, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. T. Emmett McKenzie, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Here we are faced with troublesome questions as to the exclusion from evidence, on motion of the accused, of contraband narcotics claimed by him which were seized on the premises of other persons in the course of a search without a warrant. On the basis of the seized narcotics, the accused, respondent here, was convicted of violation of the narcotics laws, 26 U.S.C. § 2553(a), 26 U.S.C.A. § 2553(a), and 21 U.S.C. § 174, 21 U.S.C.A. § 174.1 Prior to trial the District Court had denied respondent's motion to suppress, as evidence at the trial, the property seized. The Court of Appeals reversed the conviction by a divided court, 88 U.S.App.D.C. 58, 187 F.2d 498. Since a determination of the question is important in the administration of criminal justice, we brought the case here. 340 U.S. 951, 71 S.Ct. 570, 95 L.Ed. 685.

The evidence showed that one Roberts came to the Dunbar Hotel in the District of Columbia on Monday September 12, 1949, at about 3 p.m., sought out the house detective, Scott, and offered him $500 to let him into a room in the hotel occupied by respondent's two aunts, the Misses Jeffries. Roberts told Scott that respondent had 'some stuff stashed' in the room. The house detective told Roberts to call back later in the evening and he would see about it. He then immediately reported the incident to Lieut. Karper, in charge of the narcotics squad of the Metropolitan Police, who came to the hotel about 4 p.m. Karper went with Scott to the room occupied by the Misses Jeffries. When there was no answer to their knock on the door the two officers then went to the assistant manager and obtained a key to the room. Although neither officer had either a search or an arrest warrant they unlocked the door, entered the room and, in the absence of the Misses Jeffries as well as the respondent, proceeded to conduct a detailed search thereof. On the top shelf of a closet they discovered a pasteboard box containing 19 bottles of cocaine, of which only two had U.S. tax stamps attached, and one bottle of codeine, also without stamps. The bottles were seized and taken to Scott's office, where Lieut. Karper telephoned the federal narcotics agent and upon the latter's arrival turned the seized articles over to him. Respondent was arrested the following day on the charges before us, at which time he claimed ownership of the narcotics seized.

It appeared from the evidence at the pretrial hearing that the Misses Jeffries had given respondent a key to their room, that he had their permission to use the room at will, and that he often entered the room for various purposes. They had not given him permission to store narcotics there and had no knowledge that any were so stored. The hotel records reflected that the room was assigned to and paid for by them alone.

We agree with the Court of Appeals that the seizure was made in violation of the Fourth Amendment and on motion of respondent its fruits should have been excluded as evidence on his trial.

The Fourth Amendment2 prohibits both unreasonable searches and unreasonable seizures, and its protection extends to both 'houses' and 'effects.' Over and again this Court has emphasized that the mandate of the Amendment requires adherence to judicial processes. See Weeks v. United States, 1914, 232 U.S. 383, 34 S.Ct. 341, 58 L.Ed. 652; Agnello v. United States, 1925, 269 U.S. 20, 46 S.Ct. 4, 70 L.Ed. 145. Only where incident to a valid arrest, United States v. Rabinowitz, 1950, 339 U.S. 56, 70 S.Ct. 430, 94 L.Ed. 653, or in 'exceptional circumstances,' Johnson v. United States, 1948, 333 U.S. 10, 68 S.Ct. 367, 92 L.Ed. 436, may an exemption lie, and then the burden is on those seeking the exemption to show the need for it, McDonald v. United States, 1948, 335 U.S. 451, 456, 69 S.Ct. 191, 93 L.Ed. 153. In so doing the Amendment does not place an unduly oppressive weight on law enforcement officers but merely interposes an orderly procedure under the aegis of judicial impartiality that is necessary to attain the beneficent purposes intended. Johnson v. United States, supra. Officers instead of obeying this mandate have too often, as shown by the numerous cases in this Court, taken matters into their own hands and invaded the security of the people against unreasonable search and seizure.

The law does not prohibit every entry, without a warrant, into a hotel room. Circumstances might make exceptions and certainly implied or express permission is given to such persons as maids, janitors or repairmen in the performance of their duties. But here the Government admits that the search of the hotel room, as to the Misses Jeffries, was unlawful. They were not even present when the entry, search and seizure were conducted; nor were exceptional circumstances present to justify the action of the officers. There was no question of violence, no movable vehicle was involved, nor was there an arrest or imminent destruction, removal, or concealment of the property intended to be seized. In fact, the officers admit they could have easily prevented any such destruction or removal by merely guarding the door. Instead, in entering the room and making the search for the sole purpose of seizing respondent's narcotics, the officers not only proceeded without a warrant or other legal authority, but their intrusion was conducted surreptitiously and by means denounced as criminal.

The Government argues, however, that the search did not invade respondent's privacy and that he, therefore, lacked the necessary standing to suppress the evidence seized. The significant act, it says, is the seizure of the goods of the respondent without a warrant. We do not believe the events are so easily isolable. Rather they are bound together by one sole purpose—to locate and seize the narcotics of respondent. The search and seizure are, therefore, incapable of being untied. To hold that this search and seizure were lawful as to the respondent would permit a quibbling distinction to overturn a principle which was designed to protect a fundamental right. The respondent unquestionably had standing to object to the seizure made without warrant or arrest unless the contraband nature of the narcotics seized precluded his assertion, for purposes of the exclusionary...

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