Williams v. United States
Annotate this Case
401 U.S. 646 (1971)
U.S. Supreme Court
Williams v. United States, 401 U.S. 646 (1971)
Williams v. United States
Argued October 21, 1970
Decided April 5, 1971
401 U.S. 646
In No. 81, here on direct review, petitioner was convicted of selling narcotics after a trial in which heroin seized in a search incident to his arrest was introduced into evidence. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the intervening decision in Chimel v. California, 395 U. S. 752, narrowing the scope of permissible searches incident to arrest, was not to be retroactively applied to searches antedating the date it was decided, and that the search was valid under pre-Chimel law. Evidence at the trial of petitioner in No. 82 included marked bills seized during a pre-Chimel search of his apartment following his arrest on narcotics charges. The arrest and search were upheld at trial, on direct appeal, and in the District Court and Court of Appeals in proceedings under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.
No. 81, 418 F.2d 159, and No. 82, affirmed.
MR. JUSTICE WHITE, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE STEWART, and MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, concluded that Chimel, supra, is not retroactive, and should not be applied to searches conducted prior to the date of that decision. Pp. 401 U. S. 649-659.
(a) Where the major purpose of a new constitutional standard is not to overcome an aspect of a criminal trial that substantially impairs the truthfinding function and thus raises serious questions about the accuracy of guilty verdicts in past trials, the new rule does not require retrospective application. P. 401 U. S. 653.
(b) The Constitution does not require that pre-Chimel searches be measured by the new Chimel standards, Desist v. United States, 394 U. S. 244. Petitioners' rights under then-existing law were not violated either before or during trial, it is not claimed that the evidence was constitutionally insufficient to prove guilt, and the purpose of the exclusionary rule will be sufficiently implemented by applying Chimel to searches occurring after the date of decision in that case. P. 401 U. S. 656.
(c) There is no constitutional difference between the applicability of Chimel to convictions here on direct appeal and those involving collateral proceedings, or between federal and state prisoners. Pp. 401 U. S. 656-659.
MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN concluded that the question is not whether every person convicted through evidence obtained contrary to Chimel, supra, is guilty, but rather whether Chimel compels the conclusion that the invasion of petitioners' privacy, conducted in justifiable but mistaken reliance upon the continuing validity of pre-Chimel standards, requires the exclusion of the fruits of that invasion from the factfinding process. He agreed with the plurality opinion that it does not, and that the Chimel rule should not be applied retroactively. Pp. 401 U. S. 660-665.
MR. JUSTICE BLACK concurred in the result on the ground that Chimel, supra, was wrongly decided. P. 401 U. S. 660.
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN concluded that the judgment should be affirmed in No. 82, here on collateral review, as the search in that case should not be subjected to the requirements of Chimel, supra, since petitioner's conviction became final prior to Chimel, then-prevailing law validated the search, and the conviction was obtained by methods not fundamentally unfair. Pp. 401 U. S. 699-700.
MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL concluded that the judgment in No. 82 should be affirmed, as the mode of analysis in the plurality opinion is appropriate in cases here on collateral review, and the Chimel rule should not be applied retroactively in such cases. Pp. 401 U. S. 665-666.
WHITE, J., announced the Court's judgment and delivered an opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed a separate statement, post, p. 401 U. S. 660. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, post, p. 401 U. S. 660. HARLAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in No. 82 and dissenting in No. 81, post, p. 401 U. S. 675. MARSHALL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 401 U. S. 665. BLACK, J., filed a statement concurring in the result, post, p. 401 U. S. 660. DOUGLAS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of these cases.
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