On Lee v. United States,
343 U.S. 747 (1952)

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U.S. Supreme Court

On Lee v. United States, 343 U.S. 747 (1952)

On Lee v. United States

No. 543

Argued April 24, 1952

Decided June 2, 1952

343 U.S. 747


While petitioner was at large on bail pending his trial in a federal court on federal narcotics charges, an old acquaintance and former employee, who, unknown to petitioner, was a federal "undercover agent" and had a radio transmitter concealed on his person, entered the customer's room of petitioner's laundry and engaged petitioner in a conversation. Self-incriminating statements, made by petitioner during this conversation and a later conversation on a sidewalk with the same "undercover agent," were listened to on a radio receiver outside the laundry by another federal agent, who testified concerning them, over petitioner's objection, at the trial in which petitioner was convicted.


1. The conduct of the federal agents did not amount to such a search and seizure as is proscribed by the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 343 U. S. 750-753.

(a) The undercover agent committed no trespass when he entered petitioner's place of business, and his subsequent conduct did not render the entry a trespass ab initio. Pp. 343 U. S. 751-753.

(b) The doctrine of trespass ab initio is applicable only as a rule of liability in civil actions, not where the right of the Government to make use of evidence in a criminal prosecution is involved. P. 343 U. S. 752.

(c) The contentions that the undercover man's entrance was a trespass because consent was obtained by fraud, and that the other agent was a trespasser because, by means of the radio receiver outside the laundry, he overheard what went on inside, must be rejected. Pp. 343 U. S. 752-753.

(d) Decisions relating to problems raised where tangible property is unlawfully seized are inapposite in the field of mechanical or electronic devices designed to overhear or intercept conversation, at least where access to the listening post was not obtained by illegal methods. P. 343 U. S. 753.

(e) Even if the Court were to overturn its ruling that wiretapping is outside the ban of the Fourth Amendment, Olmstead v.

Page 343 U. S. 748

United States, 277 U. S. 438, petitioner would not be aided, since his case cannot be treated as one involving wiretapping. Pp. 343 U. S. 753-754.

2. The facts do not show a violation of § 605 of the Federal Communications Act, since there was no interference with any communications facility that petitioner possessed or was entitled to use, nor was petitioner sending messages to anyone or using a system of communications within the Act. P. 343 U. S. 754.

3. The evidence should not have been excluded as a means of disciplining law enforcement officers. McNabb v. United States, 318 U. S. 332, distinguished. Pp. 343 U. S. 754-758.

193 F.2d 306, affirmed.

Petitioner was convicted in the District Court of federal offenses. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 193 F.2d 306. This Court granted certiorari. 342 U.S. 941. Affirmed, p. 343 U. S. 758.

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