454 U.S. 950 (1981)

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U.S. Supreme Court

MICHAEL v. U.S. , 454 U.S. 950 (1981)

454 U.S. 950

Barry Dean MICHAEL
No. 81-112

Supreme Court of the United States

October 19, 1981

Rehearing Denied Dec. 7, 1981.

See 454 U.S. 1117.

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

The petition for writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice WHITE, with whom Justice BRENNAN and Justice POWELL join, dissenting.

The District Court in this criminal case sustained petitioner's motion to suppress on the ground that the evidence in question was obtained by Drug Enforcement Administration agents with the aid of an electronic tracking device or "beeper" which was installed on the exterior of petitioner's rented van and for which no warrant was obtained.

Without reaching the issue of whether the installation of the device was a search or seizure under the Fourth Amendment, the Court of Appeals, en banc, in a 16-to-8 decision, concluded that the installation was permissible even if it were assumed to constitute a search. 645 F.2d 252 ( 1981). It held that reasonable suspicion is adequate to support warrantless installation of a beeper because of the limited expectation of privacy in an automobile, because the intrusion occasioned by the placement of the beeper is minimal, and because the important Government interest in eliminating il-

Page 454 U.S. 950 , 951

legal drug manufacture outweighs the slight infringement of any expectation of privacy.

Courts of Appeals are divided on the legality of a warrantless installation of a beeper. The First Circuit has held that no warrant is required for the attachment and monitoring of beepers but that probable cause must exist to justify the intrusion. United States v. Moore, 562 F.2d 106 (1977). The court saw no merit in the Government counterargument that a lower standard was justified because the case involved a dangerous drug which the public would not want to go undetected. The Sixth Circuit requires a warrant and probable cause for the installation of a beeper. United States v. Bailey, 628 F.2d 938 (1980).*

Despite these conflicts, the Solicitor General opposes the petition, arguing that if petitioner is acquitted following a trial on the merits, his claims will be moot. But this would leave the conflicts among the Circuits unresolved, conflicts that are now ripe for our attention. Where there is an important and clear-cut issue of law which is fundamental to the further conduct of the case and which would otherwise qualify as a basis for certiorari, interlocutory status need not preclude review. See United States v. General Motors Corp., 323 U.S. 373, 377, 359 (1945); Gillespie v. United States Steel [454 U.S. 950 , 952]

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