Olmstead v. United States
277 U.S. 438 (1928)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928)

Olmstead v. United States

Nos. 493, 532 and 533

Argued February 20, 21, 1928

Decided June 4, 1928

277 U.S. 438

Syllabus

1. Use in evidence in a criminal trial in a federal court of an incriminating telephone conversation voluntarily conducted by the accused and secretly overheard from a tapped wire by a government officer does not compel the accused to be a witness against himself in violation of the Fifth Amendment. P. 277 U. S. 462.

2. Evidence of a conspiracy to violate the Prohibition Act was obtained by government officers by secretly tapping the lines of a telephone company connected with the chief office and some of the residences of the conspirators, and thus clandestinely overhearing and recording their telephonic conversations concerning the conspiracy and in aid of its execution. The tapping connections were made in the basement of a large office building and on public streets, and no trespass was committed upon any property of the defendants. Held, that the obtaining of the evidence and its use at the trial did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 457- 277 U. S. 466.

3. The principle of liberal construction applied to the Amendment to effect its purpose in the interest of liberty will not justify enlarging it beyond the possible practical meaning of "persons, houses, papers, and effects," or so applying "searches and seizures" as to forbid hearing or sight. P. 277 U. S. 465.

4. The policy of protecting the secrecy of telephone messages by making them, when intercepted, inadmissible as evidence in federal criminal trials may be adopted by Congress through legislation, but it is not for the courts to adopt it by attributing an enlarged and unusual meaning to the Fourth Amendment. P. 277 U. S. 465.

5. A provision in an order granting certiorari limiting the review to a single specific question does not deprive the Court of jurisdiction to decide other questions presented by the record. P. 277 U. S. 466.

6. The common law of evidence having prevailed in the State of Washington since a time antedating her transformation from a

Page 277 U. S. 439

Territory to a State, those rule apply in the trials of criminal cases in the federal courts sitting in that State. P. 277 U. S. 466.

7. Under the common law, the admissibility of evidence is not affected by the fact of its having been obtained illegally. P. 277 U. S. 467.

8. The rule excluding from the federal Courts evidence of crime procured by government officers by methods forbidden by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments is an exception to the common law rule. Id.

9. Without the sanction of an Act of Congress, federal courts have no discretion to exclude evidence, the admission of which is not unconstitutional, because it was unethically procured. P. 277 U. S. 468.

10. The statute of Washington, adopted in 1909, making the interception of telephone messages a misdemeanor cannot affect the rules of evidence applicable in federal courts in criminal cases. Id.

19 F. (2d) 842, 848, 850, affirmed.

CERTIORARI, 276 U.S. 609, to judgments of the Circuit Court of Appeals affirming convictions of conspiracy to violate the Prohibition Act. See 5 F.2d 712; 7 F.2d 756, 760. The order granting certiorari confined the hearing to the question whether the use in evidence of private telephone conversations, intercepted by means of wiretapping, violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

Page 277 U. S. 455

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