Williams v. United States, No. 365

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtDOUGLAS
Citation341 U.S. 97,95 L.Ed. 774,71 S.Ct. 576
PartiesWILLIAMS v. UNITED STATES
Decision Date23 April 1951
Docket NumberNo. 365

341 U.S. 97
71 S.Ct. 576
95 L.Ed. 774
WILLIAMS

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 365.
Argued and Submitted Jan. 8, 1951.
Decided April 23, 1951.

Mr.

Page 98

Bart A. Riley, Miami, Fla., for petitioner.

Mr. Philip Elman, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question in this case is whether a special police officer who in his official capacity subjects a person suspected of crime to force and violence in order to obtain a confession may be prosecuted under § 20 of the Criminal Code, 18 U.S.C. (1946 ed.) § 52, now 18 U.S.C.A. § 242.

Section 20 provides in pertinent part: 'Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects, or causes to be subjected, any inhabitant of any State, Territory, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States * * * shall be fined not more than $1,000, or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.'

The facts are these: The Lindsley Lumber Co. suffered numerous thefts and hired petitioner, who operated a detective agency, to ascertain the identity of the thieves. Petitioner held a special police officer's card issued by the City of Miami, Florida, and had taken an oath and qualified as a special police officer. Petitioner and others over a period of three days took four men to a paint shack on the company's premises and used brutal methods to obtain a confession from each of them. A rubber hose, a pistol, a blunt instrument, a sash cord and other implements were used in the project. One man was forced to look at a bright light for fifteen minutes; when he was blinded, he was repeatedly hit with a rubber hose

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and a sash cord and finally knocked to the floor. Another was knocked from a chair and hit in the stomach again and again. He was put back in the chair and the procedure was repeated. One was backed against the wall and jammed in the chest with a club. Each was beaten, threatened, and unmercifully punished for several hours until he confessed. One Ford, a policeman, was sent by his superior to lend authority to the proceedings. And petitioner, who committed the assaults, went about flashing his badge.

The indictment charged among other things that petitioner acting under color of law used force to make each victim confess to his guilt and implicate others, and that the victims were denied the right to be tried by due process of law and if found guilty to be sentenced and punished in accordance with the laws of the state. Petitioner was found guilty by a jury under instructions which conformed with the rulings of the Court in Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91, 65 S.Ct. 1031, 89 L.Ed. 1495. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 179 F.2d 656. The case, which is a companion to No. 26, United States v. Williams, 341 U.S. 70, 71 S.Ct. 581, and No. 134, United States v. Williams, 341 U.S. 58, 71 S.Ct. 595, decided this day, is here on certiorari.

We think it clear that petitioner was acting 'under color' of law within the meaning of § 20, or at least that the jury could properly so find. We interpreted this phrase of § 20 in United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 326, 61 S.Ct. 1031, 1043, 85 L.Ed. 1368. 'Misuse of power, possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law, is action taken 'under color of' state law.' And see Screws v. United States, supra, 325 U.S. at pages 107—111, 65 S.Ct. at pages 1038—1040, 89 L.Ed. 1495. It is common practice, as we noted in National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Co., 331 U.S. 416, 429, 67 S.Ct. 1274, 1281, 91 L.Ed. 1575, for private guards or detectives to be vested with policemen's powers. We know from the record that that is the policy of Miami, Florida. Moreover, this was an investi-

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gation conducted under the aegis of the State, as evidenced by the fact that a regular police officer was detailed to attend it. We need go no further to conclude that the lower court, to whom we give deference on local law matters, see Gardner v. State of New Jersey, 329 U.S. 565, 583, 67 S.Ct. 467, 476, 91 L.Ed. 504, was correct in holding that petitioner was no mere interloper but had a semblance of policeman's power from Florida. There was, therefore, evidence that he acted under authority of Florida law; and the manner of his conduct of the interrogations makes clear that he was asserting the authority granted him and not acting in the role of a private person. In any event the charge to the jury drew the line between official and unofficial conduct which we explored in Screws v. United States, supra, 325 U.S. at page 111, 65 S.Ct. at page 1040, 89 L.Ed. 1495, and gave petitioner all of the protection which 'color of' law as used in § 20 offers.

The main contention is that the application of § 20 so as to sustain a conviction for obtaining a confession by use of...

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246 practice notes
  • Byrd v. Sexton, No. 16056.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • March 28, 1960
    ...65 S.Ct. 1031, 89 L.Ed. 1495 (police officers' arrest of negro for a state offense and his death by beating); Williams v. United States, 341 U.S. 97, 71 S.Ct. 576, 95 L.Ed. 774 (use of force by special police officer to obtain a confession from a suspect); see Strauder v. State of West Virg......
  • United States v. Rodella, No. CR 14-2783 JB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • February 6, 2015
    ...325 U.S. at 91. A majority of the Supreme Court, however, has subsequently adopted the Screws reasoning. See Williams v. United States, 341 U.S. 97, 100 (1951); United States v. Guest, 383 U.S. 745, 753-54 (1966); United States v. Price, 383 U.S. 787, 793 (1966); Anderson v. United States, ......
  • United States v. Harriss, No. 32
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 7, 1954
    ...* * * to perform actual services"); Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91, 65 S.Ct. 1031, 89 L.Ed. 1495, and Williams v. United States, 341 U.S. 97, 71 S.Ct. 576, 578, 95 L.Ed. 774 (statute forbidding acts which would deprive a person of "any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or prot......
  • Spell v. McDaniel, No. 84-06-CIV-3.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Eastern District of North Carolina
    • July 12, 1984
    ...actions are in contravention of due process of law. Screws v. U.S., 325 U.S. 91 65 S.Ct. 1031, 89 L.Ed. 1495 (1945); Williams v. U.S., 341 U.S. 97 71 S.Ct. 576, 95 L.Ed. 774 (1951). These rights of individuals secured by the Constitution are protected by the remedy of 42 U.S.C. ž 1983. Slip......
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245 cases
  • Byrd v. Sexton, No. 16056.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • March 28, 1960
    ...65 S.Ct. 1031, 89 L.Ed. 1495 (police officers' arrest of negro for a state offense and his death by beating); Williams v. United States, 341 U.S. 97, 71 S.Ct. 576, 95 L.Ed. 774 (use of force by special police officer to obtain a confession from a suspect); see Strauder v. State of West Virg......
  • United States v. Rodella, No. CR 14-2783 JB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • February 6, 2015
    ...325 U.S. at 91. A majority of the Supreme Court, however, has subsequently adopted the Screws reasoning. See Williams v. United States, 341 U.S. 97, 100 (1951); United States v. Guest, 383 U.S. 745, 753-54 (1966); United States v. Price, 383 U.S. 787, 793 (1966); Anderson v. United States, ......
  • United States v. Harriss, No. 32
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 7, 1954
    ...* * * to perform actual services"); Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91, 65 S.Ct. 1031, 89 L.Ed. 1495, and Williams v. United States, 341 U.S. 97, 71 S.Ct. 576, 578, 95 L.Ed. 774 (statute forbidding acts which would deprive a person of "any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or prot......
  • Spell v. McDaniel, No. 84-06-CIV-3.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Eastern District of North Carolina
    • July 12, 1984
    ...actions are in contravention of due process of law. Screws v. U.S., 325 U.S. 91 65 S.Ct. 1031, 89 L.Ed. 1495 (1945); Williams v. U.S., 341 U.S. 97 71 S.Ct. 576, 95 L.Ed. 774 (1951). These rights of individuals secured by the Constitution are protected by the remedy of 42 U.S.C. ž 1983. Slip......
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1 books & journal articles
  • ELECTION LAW VIOLATIONS
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Nbr. 58-3, July 2021
    • July 1, 2021
    ...themselves with the appearance of state authority, e.g., with uniforms, credentials, and badges.” (citing Williams v. United States, 341 U.S. 97, 99–100 (1951)). 269. DOJ ELECTION PROSECUTION MANUAL, supra note 1, at 36. There is speculation whether the Constitution protects the right to vo......

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