Williams v. United States
341 U.S. 97 (1951)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Williams v. United States, 341 U.S. 97 (1951)

Williams v. United States

No. 365

Argued January 8, 1951

Decided April 23, 1951

341 U.S. 97

Syllabus

1. A special police officer who, in his official capacity, by use of force and violence, obtains a confession from a person suspected of crime may be prosecuted under what is now 18 U.S.C. § 242, which makes it an offense for any person, under color of law, willfully to subject 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. Pp. 341 U. S. 98-104.

2. Petitioner, a private detective who held a special police officer's card issued by the City of Miami, Fla., and had taken an oath and qualified as a special police officer, was employed by a business corporation to ascertain the identity of thieves who had been stealing its property. Showing his badge and accompanied by a regular policeman, he beat certain suspects and thereby obtained confessions.

Held: on the record in this case, petitioner was acting "under color" of law within the meaning of § 242, or at least the jury could properly so find. Pp. 341 U. S. 99-100.

3. As applied, under the facts of this case, to the denial of rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, § 242 is not void for vagueness. Pp. 341 U. S. 100-102.

4. Where police take matters into their own hands, seize victims, and beat them until they confess, they deprive the victims of rights under the Constitution. P. 341 U. S. 101.

5. In view of the terms of the indictment, as interpreted by the instructions to the jury, it cannot be said that any issue of vagueness of § 242, as construed and applied, is present in this case. Pp. 341 U. S. 102-104.

179 F.2d 656 affirmed.

Petitioner was convicted of a violation of what is now 18 U.S.C. § 242. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 179 F.2d 656. This Court granted certiorari. 340 U.S. 850. Affirmed, p. 341 U. S. 104.

Page 341 U. S. 98

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