WEEKS v. UNITED STATES
MR. JUSTICE DAY delivered the opinion of the court.
An indictment was returned against
the plaintiff in error, defendant below, and herein so designated, in the
District Court of the
The defendant was arrested by a
police officer, so far as the record shows, without warrant, at the Union
[*387] The defendant filed in the cause before the time for trial the following petition:
"Petition to Return Private Papers, Books and Other Property.
"Now comes defendant and states that he is a citizen and resident of Kansas City, Missouri, and that he resides, owns and occupies a home at 1834 Penn Street in said City;
"That on the 21st day of December, 1911, while plaintiff was absent at his daily vocation certain officers of the government whose names are to plaintiff unknown, unlawfully and without warrant or authority so to do, broke open the door to plaintiff's said home and seized all of his books, letters, money, papers, notes, evidences of indebtedness, stock, certificates, insurance policies, deeds, abstracts, and other muniments of title, bonds, candies, clothes and other property in said home, and this in violation of Sections 11 and 23 of the Constitution of Missouri and of the 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States:
"That the District Attorney, Marshal and Clerk of the United States Court for the Western District of Missouri took the above described property so seized into their possession and have failed and refused to return to defendant portion of same, to-wit:
"One (1) leather grip, value about $ 7.00; one (1) tin box valued at $ 3.00; one (1) Pettis County, Missouri, bond, value $ 500.00; three (3) Mining stock certificates which defendant is unable to more particularly describe valued at $ 12,000.00, and certain stock certificates in addition thereto issued by the San Domingo Mining Loan and Investment Company, about $ 75.00 in currency; one (1) newspaper published about 1790, an heirloom; and certain other property which plaintiff is now unable to describe:
"That said property is being
unlawfully and improperly
[*388] held by said
District [***654] Attorney, Marshal and Clerk in violation of
defendant's rights under the Constitution of the
"That said District Attorney purposes to use said books, letters, papers, certificates of stock, etc., at the trial of the above entitled cause and that by reason thereof and of the facts above set forth defendant's rights under the amendments aforesaid to the Constitution of Missouri, and the United States have been and will be violated unless the Court order the return prayed for:
"Wherefore, defendant prays that said District Attorney, Marshal and Clerk be notified, and that the Court direct and order said District Attorney, Marshal and Clerk to return said property to said defendant."
Upon consideration of the petition the court entered in the cause an order directing the return of such property as was not pertinent to the charge against the defendant, but denied the petition as to pertinent matter, reserving the right to pass upon the pertinency at a later time. In obedience to the order the District Attorney returned part of the property taken and retained the remainder, concluding a list of the latter with the statement that, "all of which last above described property is to be used in evidence in the trial of the [**343] above entitled cause, and pertains to the alleged sale of lottery tickets of the company above named."
After the jury had been sworn and
before any evidence had been given, the defendant again urged his petition for
the return of his property, which was denied by the court. Upon the introduction of such papers during
the trial, the defendant objected on the ground that the
papers had been obtained without a search warrant and by breaking open
his home, in violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution
The defendant assigns error, among other things, in the court's refusal to grant his petition for the return of his property and in permitting the papers to be used at the trial.
It is thus apparent that the
question presented involves the determination of the duty of the court with
reference to the motion made by the defendant for the return of certain
letters, as well as other papers, taken from his room by the United States
Marshal, who, without authority of process, if any such could have been legally
issued, visited the room of the defendant for the declared purpose of obtaining
additional testimony to support the charge against the accused, and having
gained admission to the house took from the drawer of a chiffonier there found
certain letters written to the defendant, tending to show his guilt. These letters were placed in the control of
the District Attorney and were subsequently produced by him and offered in
evidence against the accused at the trial.
The defendant contends that such appropriation of his private
correspondence was in violation of rights secured to him by the Fourth and
Fifth Amendments to the Constitution of the
"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."
The history of this Amendment is
given with particularity in the opinion of Mr. Justice Bradley, speaking for [*390] the court in Boyd v.
In the Boyd Case, supra, after citing Lord Camden's judgment in Entick v. Carrington, 19 Howell's State Trials, 1029, Mr. Justice Bradley said (630):
"The principles laid down in this opinion affect the very essence of constitutional liberty and security. They reach farther [**344] than the concrete form of the case then before the court, with its adventitious circumstances; they apply to all invasions on the part of the government and its employes of the sanctity of a man's home and the privacies of life. It is not the breaking of his doors, and the rummaging of his drawers, that constitutes the essence of the offence; but it is the invasion of his indefeasible right of personal security, personal liberty and private property, where that right has never been forfeited by his conviction of some public offence, -- it is the invasion of this sacred right which underlies and constitutes the essence of Lord Camden's judgment."
In Bram v. United States, 168 U.S. 532, this court in speaking by the present Chief Justice of Boyd's Case, dealing with the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, said (544):
"It was in that case demonstrated that both of these Amendments contemplated perpetuating, in their full efficacy, by means of a constitutional provision, principles of humanity and civil liberty, which had been secured in the mother country only after years of struggle, so as to implant them in our institutions in the fullness of their integrity, free from the possibilities of future legislative change."
The effect of the Fourth Amendment is to put the courts [*392] of the United States and Federal officials, in the exercise of their power and authority, under limitations and restraints as to the exercise of such power and authority, and to forever secure the people, their persons, houses, papers and effects against all unreasonable searches and seizures under the guise of law. This protection reaches all alike, whether accused of crime or not, and the duty of giving to it force and effect is obligatory upon all entrusted under our Federal system with the enforcement of the laws. The tendency of those who execute the criminal laws of the country to obtain conviction by means of unlawful seizures and enforced confessions, the latter often obtained after subjecting accused persons to unwarranted practices destructive of rights secured by the Federal Constitution, should find no sanction in the judgments of the courts which are charged at all times with the support of the Constitution and to which people of all conditions have a right to appeal for the maintenance of such fundamental rights.
What then is the present case? Before answering that inquiry specifically, it may be well by a process of exclusion to state what it is not. It is not an assertion of the right on the part of the Government, always recognized under English and American law, to search the person of the accused when legally arrested to discover and seize the fruits or evidences of crime. This right has been uniformly maintained in many cases. 1 Bishop on Criminal Procedure, § 211; Wharton, Crim. Plead. and Practice, 8th ed., § 60; Dillon v. O'Brien and Davis, 16 Cox C.C. 245. Nor is it the case of testimony offered at a trial where the court is asked to stop and consider the illegal means by which proofs, otherwise competent, were obtained -- of which we shall have occasion to treat later in this opinion. Nor is it the case of burglar's tools or other proofs of guilt found upon his arrest within the control of the accused.
The case in the aspect in which we are dealing with it involves the
right of the court in a criminal prosecution to retain for the purposes of
evidence the letters and correspondence of the accused, seized in his house in
his absence and without his authority, by a United States Marshal holding no
warrant for his arrest and none for the search of his premises. The accused, without awaiting his trial, made
timely application to the court for an order for the return of these letters,
as well as other property. This
application was denied, the
[***656] letters retained and put
in evidence, after a further application at the beginning of the trial, both
applications asserting the rights of the accused under the Fourth and Fifth
Amendments to the Constitution. If
letters and private documents can thus be seized and held and used in evidence
against a citizen accused of an offense, the protection of the Fourth Amendment
declaring his right to be secure against such searches and seizures is of no
value, and, so far as those thus placed are concerned, might as well be
stricken from the Constitution. The
efforts of the courts and their officials to bring the guilty to punishment,
praiseworthy as they are, are not to be aided by the sacrifice of those great
principles established by years of endeavor and suffering which have resulted
in their embodiment in the fundamental law of the land. The United States Marshal could only have
invaded the house of the accused when armed with a warrant issued as required
by the Constitution,
upon sworn information and describing with reasonable
particularity the thing for which the search was to be made. Instead, he acted without sanction of law,
doubtless prompted by the desire to bring further proof to the aid of the
Government, and under color of his office undertook to make a seizure of
private papers in direct violation of the constitutional prohibition against
such action. Under such circumstances, without sworn information and particular
description, not [**345] even an order of court would [*394]
have justified such procedure, much less was it within the authority of
the United States Marshal to thus invade the house and privacy of the accused. In
The court before which the
application was made in this case recognized the illegal character of the
seizure and ordered the return of property not in its judgment competent to be
offered at the trial, but refused the application of the accused to turn over
the letters, which were afterwards put in evidence on behalf of the
Government. While there is no opinion in
the case, the court in this proceeding doubtless relied upon what is now
contended by the Government to be the correct rule of law under such
circumstances, that the letters having come into the control of the court, it
would not inquire into the manner in which they were obtained, but if competent
would keep them and permit their use in evidence. Such proposition, the Government asserts, is
conclusively established by certain decisions of this court, the first of which
The same point had been ruled in People v. Adams, 176 N.Y. 351, from which decision the case was brought to this [***657] court, where it was held that if the papers seized in addition to the policy slips were competent evidence in the case, as the court held they were, they were admissible in evidence at the trial, the court saying (p. 358): "The underlying principle obviously is that the court, when engaged in trying a criminal cause, will not take notice of [*396] the manner in which witnesses have possessed themselves of papers, or other articles of personal property, which are material and properly offered in evidence." This doctrine thus laid down by the New York Court of Appeals and approved by this court, that a court will not in trying a criminal cause permit a collateral issue to be raised as to the source of competent testimony, has the sanction of so many state cases that it would be impracticable to cite or refer to them in detail. Many of them are collected in the note to State v. Turner, 136 Am. St. Rep. 129, 135 et seq. After citing numerous cases the editor says: "The underlying principle of all these decisions obviously is, that the court, when engaged in the trial of a criminal action, will not take notice of the manner in which a witness has possessed himself of papers or other chattels, subjects of evidence, which are material and properly offered in evidence: People v. Adams, 176 N.Y. 351, 98 Am. St. Rep. 675, 68 N.E. 636, 63 L.R.A. 406. Such an investigation is not involved necessarily in the litigation in chief, and to pursue it would be to halt in the orderly progress of a cause, and consider incidentally a [**346] question which has happened to cross the path of such litigation, and which is wholly independent thereof."
It is therefore evident that the Adams Case affords no authority for the action of the court in this case, when applied to in due season for the return of papers seized in violation of the Constitutional Amendment. The decision in that case rests upon incidental seizure made in the execution of a legal warrant and in the application of the doctrine that a collateral issue will not be raised to ascertain the source from which testimony, competent in a criminal case, comes.
The Government also relies upon Hale
v. Henkel, 201
Another case relied upon is American Tobacco Co. v. Werckmeister, 207 U.S. 284, in which it was held that the seizure by the United States Marshal in a copyright case of certain pictures under a writ of replevin did not constitute an unreasonable search and seizure. The other case from this court relied upon is Holt v. United States, 218 U.S. 245, in which it was held that testimony tending to show that a certain blouse which was in evidence as incriminating him, had been put upon the prisoner and fitted him, did not violate his constitutional right. We [*398] are at a loss to see the application of these cases to the one in hand.
The right of the court to deal
with papers and documents in the possession of the District Attorney and other
officers of the court and subject to its authority was recognized in Wise
v. Henkel, 220 U.S. 556. That papers
wrongfully seized should be turned over to the accused has been frequently
recognized in the early as well as later decisions of the courts. 1 Bishop on Criminal Procedure, § 210; Rex v. Barnett, 3 C. &
P. 600; Rex v. Kinsey, 7 C. & P. 447; United States v.
Mills, 185 Fed. Rep. 318;
We therefore reach the conclusion
that the letters in question were taken from the house of the accused by an
official of the United States acting under color of his office in direct
violation of the constitutional [***658] rights of the defendant; that having made a
seasonable application for their return, which was heard and passed upon by the
court, there was involved in the order refusing the application a denial of the
constitutional rights of the accused, and that the court should have restored
these letters to the accused. In holding
them and permitting their use upon the trial, we think prejudicial error was
committed. As to the papers and property
seized by the policemen, it does not appear that they acted under any claim of
Federal authority such as would make the Amendment applicable to such
unauthorized seizures. The record shows that what they did by way of arrest and
search and seizure was done before the finding of the indictment in the Federal
court, under what supposed right or authority does not appear. What remedies the defendant may have against
them we need not inquire, as the Fourth Amendment is not directed to individual
misconduct of such officials. Its limitations
reach the Federal Government and its agencies.
Boyd Case, 116
[*399] It results that the judgment of the court below must be reversed, and the case remanded for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.