419 U.S. 979 (1974)

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U.S. Supreme Court

GENTILE v. U. S. , 419 U.S. 979 (1974)

419 U.S. 979

Kenneth W. GENTILE
No. 73-6810.

Supreme Court of the United States

October 29, 1974

On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, with whom Mr. Justice MARSHALL concurs, dissenting.

Petitioner was questioned by Texas police officers in connection with the burglary of a store. After receiving Miranda warnings, petitioner admitted participation in the robbery and disclosed that certain stolen articles could be found in his apartment. The police decided to search the apartment for the stolen goods. Instead of obtaining a warrant, however, the police officers presented petitioner with a 'consent form,' which he signed. By signing the form he authorized the police 'to take from may premises and property any letters, papers, material, or any other property or things which they desire as evidence for criminal prosecution in the case or cases now under investigation.'

The police then went to petitioner's apartment in search of four boxes of gum and a small radio, goods known to have been taken in the store burglary. In the course of searching for these items, one of the searching officers found a check lying on a bureau. The check was partly obscured by an article of clothing, but the officer testified that a protruding stub allowed him to determine that the payee was a person other than petitioner. The officers

Page 419 U.S. 979 , 980

seized the check, and subsequent investigation revealed that it had been stolen. The officer's discovery formed the basis for petitioner's prosecution in the District Court for mail theft, 18 U.S.C. 1708. Prior to trial, petitioner unsuccessfully moved to suppress the stolen check as evidence, asserting that the seizure of it violated the Fourth Amendment. Petitioner's conviction followed and the denial of the motion to suppress was held proper on the ground that petitioner had consented to the search of his apartment.

Since there is no contention that the police could otherwise have searched petitioner's apartment without first obtaining a warrant, the lawfulness of their search turns on whether petitioner's signing of the consent form relieved the police of this obligation. If this consent form has any validity, seizure of the stolen check from petitioner's residence is outside its scope. The form signified consent to seizure of property 'as evidence . . . in the case or cases now under investigation' (emphasis added). At the time petitioner signed the form he had been questioned and charged with the burglary of a particular store. Thus his reasonable expectations, which must govern construction of the document, were that he was authorizing the police to search his residence for evidence in connection with the only crime for which he was then a suspect. [Footnote 1] [419 U.S. 979 , 981]

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