Adams v. New York
192 U.S. 585 (1904)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Adams v. New York, 192 U.S. 585 (1904)

Adams v. New York

No. 604

Argued January 27, 1904

Decided February 23, 1904

192 U.S. 585

Syllabus

The fact that papers which are pertinent to the issue may have been illegally taken from the possession of the party against whom they are offered is not a valid objection to their admissibility. The court considers the competency of the evidence, and not the method by which it was obtained.

There is no violation of the constitutional guaranty of privilege from unlawful searches and seizures in admitting as evidence in a criminal trial, papers found in the execution of a valid search warrant prior to the indictment, and by the introduction of such evidence defendant is not compelled to incriminate himself.

It is within the established power of a state to prescribe the evidence which is to be received in its own courts. The provisions of §§ 344a and 344b of the Penal Code of New York making the possession of policy slips by a person other than a public officer presumption of possession

Page 192 U. S. 586

knowingly in violation of law are not violative of the Fourteenth Amendment, are not unconstitutional as depriving a citizen of his liberty or property without due process of law, and do not, on account of the exception as to public officers, deprive him of the equal protection of the laws. A suggested construction of a state statute which would lead to a manifest absurdity and which has not and is not likely to receive judicial sanction will not be accepted by this Court as the basis of declaring the statute unconstitutional when the courts of the state have given it a construction which is the only one consistent with its purposes and under which it is constitutional.

This is a writ of error to the supreme court of the State of New York. The plaintiff in error at the April term, 1903, of the supreme court of the State of New York, was tried before one of the justices of that court and a jury, and convicted of the crime of having in his possession, knowingly, certain gambling paraphernalia used in the game commonly known as policy, in violation of § 344a of the Penal Code of the State of New York. This section and the one following, section 344b, relating to the offense in question, are as follows:

"SEC. 344a. Keeping Place to Play Policy. -- A person who keeps, occupies, or uses, or permits to be kept, occupied, or used, a place, building, room, table, establishment, or apparatus for policy playing, or for the sale of what are commonly called 'lottery policies,' or who delivers or receives money or other valuable consideration in playing policy, or in aiding in the playing thereof, or for what is commonly called a 'lottery policy,' or for any writing, paper, or document in the nature of a bet, wager, or insurance upon the drawing or drawn numbers of any public or private lottery; or who shall have in his possession, knowingly, any writing, paper, or document, representing or being a record of any chance, share, or interest in numbers sold, drawn, or to be drawn, or in what is commonly called 'policy,' or in the nature of a bet, wager, or insurance, upon the drawing or drawn numbers of any public or private lottery, or any paper, print, writing, numbers, device, policy slip, or article of any kind such as is commonly used in carrying on, promoting, or playing the game commonly called 'policy;' or who is the owner, agent, superintendent, janitor, or caretaker of any place, building, or room where policy playing

Page 192 U. S. 587

or the sale of what are commonly called 'lottery policies' is carried on with his knowledge, or, after notification that the premises are so used, permits such use to be continued, or who aids, assists, or abets in any manner, in any of the offenses, acts, or matters herein named, is a common gambler and punishable by imprisonment for not more than two years, and in the discretion of the court, by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, or both."

"SEC. 344b. Possession of Policy Slip, etc., Presumptive Evidence. -- The possession, by any person other than a public officer, of any writing, paper, or document representing or being a record of any chance, share, or interest in numbers sold, drawn, or to be drawn, or in what is commonly called 'policy,' or in the nature of a bet, wager, or insurance upon the drawing or drawn numbers of any public or private lottery, or any paper, print, writing, numbers, or device, policy slip, or article of any kind, such as is commonly used in carrying on, promoting, or playing the game commonly called 'policy,' is presumptive evidence of possession thereof knowingly and in violation of the provisions of section three hundred forty-four a."

The assignments of error in this Court are:

"First. That the court erred in holding that, by the reception in evidence of the defendant's private papers seized in the raid of his premises, against his protest and without his consent, which had no relation whatsoever to the game of policy, for the possession of papers used in connection with which said game he was convicted, his constitutional right to be secure in his person, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures was not violated, and that he was also thereby not compelled to be a witness against himself, in contravention of the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Articles of Amendment to the Constitution of the United States."

"Second. That the court erred in holding that the statute, sections 344a, 344b, of the Penal Code of the State of New York, under which the indictment against the plaintiff in error was found and his conviction was had, did not deprive him of rights, privileges, and immunities secured to other citizens of

Page 192 U. S. 588

the United States and of said State of New York, nor of liberty or property, without due process of law, nor of the equal protection of the laws, in violation of section 1 of the Fourteenth Article of Amendment to the Constitution of the United States."

"Third. That the court erred in affirming the judgment of conviction, and in refusing to discharge the plaintiff in error from custody."

The game of policy referred to in the sections of the statute quoted is a lottery scheme carried on, as shown in the testimony, by means of certain numbers procured at the shop or place where the game is played, and consists in an attempt to guess whether one or more of the series held by the player will be included in a list of twelve or at times thirteen of the numbers between one and seventy-eight, which are supposed to be drawn daily at the headquarters of the operators of the game. A person desiring to play the game causes the numbers to be entered on series of slips or manifold sheets. One of these pieces of paper containing the combination played by the person entering the game is kept by him and is known as a policy slip. Drawings are held twice a day, and the holder of the successful combination receives the money which goes to the winner of the game. About 3,500 of these slips were found in the office occupied by the plaintiff in error, which was searched by certain police officers holding a search warrant. The officers took not only the policy slips, but certain other papers, which were received in evidence against the plaintiff in error at the trial, against his objection, for the purpose of identifying certain handwriting of the defendant upon the slips, and also to show that the papers belonged to the defendant, and were in the same custody as the policy slips.

So far as the case presents a federal question, the Court of Appeals of the State of New York held (176 N.Y. 351) that the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States do not contain limitations upon the power of the states, and proceeded to examine the case in the light of similar provisions in the Constitution and Bill of Rights of that state.

Page 192 U. S. 594

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