United States v. Rabinowitz

Decision Date20 February 1950
Docket NumberNo. 293,293
Citation70 S.Ct. 430,94 L.Ed. 653,339 U.S. 56
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Philip B. Perlman, Solicitor General, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. Abraham Lillienthal, New York City, for respondent.

Mr. Justice MINTON delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent was convicted of selling and of possessing and concealing forged and altered obligations of the United States with intent to defraud. The question presented here is the reasonableness of a search without a search warrant of a place of business consisting of a one-room office, incident to a valid arrest.

On February 1, 1943, a printer who possessed plates for forging 'overprints' on canceled stamps was taken into custody. He disclosed that respondent, a dealer in stamps, was one of the customers to whom he had delivered large numbers of stamps bearing forged overprints.1 On Saturday, February 6, 1943, with this information concerning respondent and his activities in the hands of Government officers, a postal employee was sent to respondent's place of business to buy stamps bearing overprints. He bought four stamps. On Monday, February 8, the stamps were sent to an expert to determine whether the overprints were genuine. On February 9 the report was received showing the overprints to be forgeries, having been placed upon the stamps after cancellation, and not before as was the Government's practice. On February 11 a further statement was obtained from the printer who had made the overprints. On February 16, 1943, a warrant for the arrest of respondent was obtained.

In 1941 respondent had been convicted and sentenced to three months' imprisonment on a plea of guilty to a two-count indictment charging the alteration of obligations of the United States, that is, of overprinting Government postage stamps, and the possession of a plate from which a similitude of a United States obligation had been printed. Thus, when the warrant for arrest was obtained, the officers had reliable information that respondent was an old offender, that he had sold four forged and altered stamps to an agent of the Government, and that he probably possessed several thousand altered stamps bearing forged overprints. While the warrant of arrest was not put in evidence is contained, as a Government witness testified on cross-examination, authority to arrest for more than the sale of the four stamps; it covered all the Government officers' information.2

Armed with this valid warrant for arrest, the Government officers, accompanied by two stamp experts, went to respondent's place of business, a one-room office open to the public. The officers thereupon arrested the re- spondent, and over his objection searched the desk, safe, and file cabinets in the office for about an hour and a half. They found and seized 573 stamps, on which it was later determined that overprints had been forged, along with some other stamps which were subsequently returned to respondent.

Respondent was indicted on two counts. He was charged in count one with selling four forged and altered stamps, knowing they were forged and altered and with the intent that they be passed as geniune.3 The second count charged that he did keep in his possession and conceal, with intent to defraud, the 573 forged and altered stamps.4

Respondent made timely motions for suppression and to strike the evidence pertaining to the 573 stamps, all of which were eventually denied. Respondent was convicted on both counts after trial before a jury in which he offered no evidence. Relying on Trupiano v. United States, 334 U.S. 699, 68 S.Ct. 1229, 92 L.Ed. 1663, the Court of Appeals, one judge dissenting, reversed on the ground that since the officers had had time in which to procure a search warrant and had failed to do so the search was illegal, and the evidence therefore should have been excluded. 2 Cir., 176 F.2d 732. We granted certiorari to determine the validity of the search because of the question's importance in the administration of the law of search and seizure. 338 U.S. 884, 70 S.Ct. 187.

Were the 573 stamps, the fruits of this search, admissible in evidence? If legally obtained, these stamps were competent evidence to show intent under the first count of the indictment, and they were the very things the possession of which was the crime charged in the second count.

The Fourth Amendment provides: 'The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.'

It is unreasonable searches that are prohibited by the Fourth Amendment. Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 147, 45 S.Ct. 280, 283, 69 L.Ed. 543, 39 A.L.R. 790. It was recognized by the framers of the Constitution that there were reasonable searches for which no warrant was required. The right of the 'people to be secure in their persons' was certainly of as much concern to the framers of the Constitution as the property of the person. Yet no one questions the right, without a search warrant, to search the person after a valid arrest. The right to search the person incident to arrest always has been recognized in this country and in England. Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 392, 34 S.Ct. 341, 344, 58 L.Ed. 652, L.R.A.1915B, 834, Ann.Cas.1915C, 1177. Where one had been placed in the custody of the law by valid action of officers, it was not unreasonable to search him.

Of course, a search without warrant incident to an arrest is dependent initially on a valid arrest. Here the officers had a warrant for respondent's arrest which was, as far as can be ascertained, broad enough to cover the crime of possession charged in the second count, and consequently respondent was properly arrested. Even if the warrant of arrest were not sufficient to authorize the arrest for possession of the stamps, the arrest therefor was valid because the officers had probable cause to believe that a felony was being committed in their very presence. Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 156—157, 45 S.Ct. 280, 286, 69 L.Ed. 543, 39 A.L.R. 790.

The arrest was therefore valid in any event, and respondent's person could be lawfully searched. Could the officers search his desk, safe and file cabinets, all within plain sight of the parties, and all located under respondent's immediate control in his one-room office open to the public?

Decisions of this Court have often recognized that there is a permissible area of search beyond the person proper. Thus in Agnello v. United States, 269 U.S. 20, 30, 46 S.Ct. 4, 5, 70 L.Ed. 145, this Court stated:

'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 to effect an escape from custody is not to be doubted.'

The right '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' seems to have stemmed not only from the acknowledged authority to search the person, but also from the longstanding practice of searching for other proofs of guilt within the control of the accused found upon arrest. Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 392, 34 S.Ct. 341, 344, 58 L.Ed. 652, L.R.A.1915B, 834, Ann.Cas.1915C, 1177. It became accepted that the premises where the arrest was made, which premises were under the control of the person arrested and where the crime was being committed, were subject to search without a search warrant. Such a search was not 'unreasonable.' Agnello v. United States, 269 U.S. 20, 30, 46 S.Ct. 4, 5; Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 158, 45 S.Ct. 280, 287; Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 623—624, 6 S.Ct. 524, 528, 29 L.Ed. 746.

In Marron v. United States, 275 U.S. 192, 48 S.Ct. 74, 72 L.Ed. 231, the officers had a warrant to search for liquor, but the warrant did not describe a certain ledger and invoices pertaining to the operation of the business. The latter were seized during the search of the place of business but were not returned on the search warrant as they were not described therein. The offense of maintaining a nuisance under the National Prohibition Act, 27 U.S.C.A. § 1 et seq., was being committed in the room by the arrested bartender in the officers' presence. The search warrant was held not to cover the articles seized, but the arrest for the offense being committed in the presence of the officers was held to authorize the search for and seizure of the ledger and invoices, this Court saying:

'The officers were authorized to arrest for crime being committed in their presence, and they lawfully arrested Birdsall. They had a right without a warrant contemporaneously to search the place in order to find and seize the things used to carry on the criminal enterprise. * * * The closet in which liquor and the ledger were found was used as a part of the saloon. And, if the ledger was not as essential to the maintenance of the establishment as were bottles, liquors and glasses, it was none the less a part of the outfit or equipment actually used to commit the offense. And, while it was not on Birdsall's person at the time of his arrest, it was in his immediate possession and control. The authority of officers to search and seize the things by which the nuisance was being maintained extended to all parts of the premises used for the unlawful purpose.' Marron v. United States, 275 U.S. 192, 198—199, 48 S.Ct. 74, 76, 77.

We do not understand the Marron case to have been drained of contemporary vitality by Go-Bart Importing Co. v....

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