United States v. Watson
423 U.S. 411 (1976)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Watson, 423 U.S. 411 (1976)

United States v. Watson

No. 74-538

Argued October 8, 1975

Decided January 26, 1976

423 U.S. 411

Syllabus

A postal inspector received from an informant of known reliability a stolen credit card that respondent had given the informant to be used for their mutual advantage, and the inspector was told by the informant that respondent had agreed to furnish additional cards. At the inspector's suggestion, a meeting was arranged between the informant and respondent for a few days later, which took place at a restaurant. Upon a prearranged signal from the informant that respondent had the additional cards, postal officers made a warrantless arrest of respondent, removed him from the restaurant, and gave him Miranda warnings. When a search of respondent's person revealed no cards, a consented search of his nearby car (after respondent had been cautioned that the results could be used against him) revealed two additional cards in the names of other persons. Following an unsuccessful motion to suppress, these cards were used as evidence in respondent's trial, which resulted in his conviction of possessing stolen mail. The Court of Appeals reversed, ruling that the Fourth Amendment prohibited use of that evidence because (1) notwithstanding probable cause for respondent's arrest, the arrest was unconstitutional because the postal inspector had failed to secure an arrest warrant though he had time to do so, and (2) based on the totality of the circumstances (including the illegality of the arrest), respondent's consent to the car search was coerced and thus, invalid.

Held:

1. The arrest of respondent, having been based on probable cause and made by postal officers acting in strict compliance with the governing statute and regulations, did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 423 U. S. 414-424.

2. Since the arrest comported with the Fourth Amendment, respondent's consent to the car search was not, contrary to the holding of the Court of Appeals, the product of an illegal arrest, nor were there any other circumstances indicating that respondent's consent was not his own "essentially free and unconstrained

Page 423 U. S. 412

choice" because his "will ha[d] been . . . overborne and his capacity for self-determination critically impaired," Schneckloth v. Bustamonte,412 U. S. 218, 412 U. S. 225. Pp. 423 U. S. 424 425.

504 F.2d 849, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 423 U. S. 425. STEWART, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, post, p. 423 U. S. 433. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 423 U. S. 433. STEVENS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Official Supreme Court caselaw is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia caselaw is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.