United States v. Plamondon 8212 153

Decision Date19 June 1972
Docket NumberNo. 70,70
Citation92 S.Ct. 2125,32 L.Ed.2d 752,407 U.S. 297
PartiesUNITED STATES, Petitioner, v. .; Lawrence Robert 'Pun' PLAMONDON et al., Real Parties inInterest. —153
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

The United States charged three defendants with conspiring to destroy, and one of them with destroying, Government property. In response to the defendants' pretrial motion for disclosure of electronic surveillance information, the Government filed an affidavit of the Attorney General stating that he had approved the wiretaps for the purpose of 'gather(ing) intelligence information deemed necessary to protect the nation from attempts of domestic organizations to attack and subvert the existing structure of the Government.' On the basis of the affidavit and surveillance logs (filed in a sealed exhibit), the Government claimed that the surveillances, though warrantless, were lawful as a reasonable exercise of presidential power to protect the national security. The District Court, holding the surveillances violative of the Fourth Amendment, issued an order for disclosure of the overheard conversations, which the Court of Appeals upheld. Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, which authorizes court-approved electronic surveillance for specified crimes, contains a provision in 18 U.S.C. § 2511(3) that nothing in that law limits the President's constitutional power to protect against the overthrow of the Government or against 'any other clear and present danger to the structure or existence of the Government.' The Government relies on § 2511(3) in support of its contention that 'in excepting national security surveillances from the Act's warrant requirement, Congress recognized the President's authority to conduct such surveillances withour prior judicial approval.' Held:

1. Section 2511(3) is merely a disclaimer of congressional intent to define presidential powers in matters affecting national security, and is not a grant of authority to conduct warrantless national security surveillances. Pp. 301—308.

2. The Fourth Amendment (which shields private speech from unreasonable surveillance) requires prior judicial approval for the type of domestic security surveillance involved in this case. Pp. 323—324.

(a) The Government's duty to safeguard domestic security must be weighed against the potential danger that unreasonable surveillances pose to individual privacy and free expression. Pp. 314—315.

(b) The freedoms of the Fourth Amendment cannot properly be guaranteed if domestic security surveillances are conducted solely within the discretion of the Executive Branch without the detached judgment of a neutral magistrate. Pp. 316—318.

(c) Resort to appropriate warrant procedure would not frustrate the legitimate purposes of domestic security searches. Pp. 318—321.

6 Cir., 444 F.2d 651, affirmed.

Robert C. Mardian, Pasadena, Cal., for petitioner.

William T. Gossett, Detroit, Mich., for respondents United States District Court for the Eastern District of Mich. and District Judge Damon J. Keith.

Arthur Kinoy, Newark, N.J., for respondents John Sinclair, Lawrence 'Pun' Plamondon and John Waterhouse Forrest.

Mr. Justice POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue before us is an important one for the people of our country and their Government. It involves the delicate question of the President's power, acting through the Attorney General, to authorize electronic surveillance in internal security matters without prior judicial approval. Successive Presidents for more than one-quarter of a century have authorized such surveillance in varying degrees,1 without guidance from the Congress or a definitive decision of this Court. This case brings the issue here for the first time. Its resolution is a matter of national concern, requiring sensitivity both to the Government's right to protect itself from unlawful subversion and attack and to the citizen's right to be secure in his privacy against unreasonable Government intrusion.

This case arises from a criminal proceeding in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, in which the United States charged three defendants with conspiracy to destroy Government property in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. One of the defendants, Plamondon, was charged with the dynamite bombing of an office of the Central Intelligence Agency in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

During pretrial proceedings, the defendants moved to compel the United States to disclose certain electronic surveillance information and to conduct a hearing to determine whether this information 'tainted' the evidence on which the indictment was based or which the Government intended to offer at trial. In response, the Government filed an affidavit of the Attorney General, acknowledging that its agents had overheard conversations in which Plamondon had participated. The affidavit also stated that the Attorney General approved the wiretaps 'to gather intelligence information deemed necessary to protect the nation from attempts of domestic organizations to attack and subvert the existing structure of the Government.'2 The logs of the surveillance were filed in a sealed exhibit for in camera inspection by the District Court.

On the basis of the Attorney General's affidavit and the sealed exhibit, the Government asserted that the surveillance was lawful, though conducted without prior judicial approval, as a reasonable exercise of the President's power (exercised through the Attorney General) to protect the national security. The District Court held that the surveillance violated the Fourth Amendment, and ordered the Government to make full disclosure to Plamondon of his overheard conversations. 321 F.Supp. 1074 (ED Mich.1971).

The Government then filed in the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit a petition for a writ of mandamus to set aside the District Court order, which was stayed pending final disposition of the case. After concluding that it had jurisdiction,3 that court held that the surveillance was unlawful and that the District Court had properly required disclosure of the overheard conversations, 444 F.2d 651 (1971). We granted certiorari, 403 U.S. 930, 91 S.Ct. 2255, 29 L.Ed.2d 708.

I

Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510—2520, authorizes the use of electronic surveillance for classes of crimes care- fully specified in 18 U.S.C. § 2516. Such surveillance is subject to prior court order. Section 2518 sets forth the detailed and particularized application necessary to obtain such an order as well as carefully circumscribed conditions for its use. The Act represents a comprehensive attempt by Congress to promote more effective control of crime while protecting the privacy of individual thought and expression. Much of Title III was drawn to meet the constitutional requirements for electronic surveillance enunciated by this Court in Berger v. New York, 388 U.S. 41, 87 S.Ct. 1873, 18 L.Ed.2d 1040 (1967), and Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967).

Together with the elaborate surveillance requirements in Title III, there is the following proviso, 18 U.S.C. § 2511(3):

'Nothing contained in this chapter or in section 605 of the Communications Act of 1934 (48 Stat. 1143; 47 U.S.C. 605) shall limit the constitutional power of the President to take such measures as he deems necessary to protect the Nation against actual or potential attack or other hostile acts of a foreign power, to obtain foreign intelligence information deemed essential to the security of the United States, or to protect national security information against foreign intelligence activities. Nor shall anything contained in this chapter be deemed to limit the constitutional power of the President to take such measures as he deems necessary to protect the United States against the overthrow of the Government by force or other unlawful means, or against any other clear and present danger to the structure or existence of the Government. The contents of any wire or oral communication intercepted by authority of the President in the exercise of the foregoing powers may be received in evidence in any trial hearing or other proceeding only where such interception was reasonable, and shall not be otherwise used or disclosed except as is necessary to implement that power.' (Emphasis supplied.)

The Government relies on § 2511(3). It argues that 'in excepting national security surveillances from the Act's warrant requirement Congress recognized the President's authority to conduct such surveillances without prior judicial approval.' Brief for United States 7, 28. The section thus is viewed as a recognition or affirmance of a constitutional authority in the President to conduct warrantless domestic security surveillance such as that involved in this case.

We think the language of § 2511(3), as well as the legislative history of the statute, refutes this interpretation. The relevant language is that:

'Nothing contained in this chapter . . . shall limit the constitutional power of the President to take such measures as he deems necessary to protect . . .'

Against the dangers specified. At most, this is an implicit recognition that the President does have certain powers in the specified areas. Few would doubt this, as the section refers—among other things—to protection 'against actual or potential attack or other hostile acts of a foreign power.' But so far as the use of the President's electronic surveillance power is concerned, the language is essentially neutral.

Section 2511(3) certainly confers no power, as the language is wholly inappropriate for such a purpose. It merely provides that the Act shall not be interpreted to limit or disturb such power as the President may have under the Constitution. In short, Congress simply left...

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