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Law School Case Brief

Berger v. New York - 388 U.S. 41, 87 S. Ct. 1873 (1967)


Under the Fourth Amendment warrants may only issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. Probable cause under the Fourth Amendment exists where the facts and circumstances within the affiant's knowledge, and of which he has reasonably trustworthy information, are sufficient unto themselves to warrant a man of reasonable caution to believe that an offense has been or is being committed.


In a state bribery investigation, a recording device was placed in an office by ex parte order of a justice of the New York Supreme Court pursuant to a New York statute authorizing such orders upon oath or affirmation of certain public officials if the judge should satisfy himself of the existence of reasonable grounds for granting an application for such recording. Relevant portions of the recordings thus obtained were received in evidence and played to the jury in a bribery prosecution in the New York Supreme Court, in which the court upheld the statute and the accused was convicted.  On appeal, the state appellate court upheld the validity of a permissive eavesdrop statute, N.Y. Crim. Proc. Code § 813-a. 


Was the permissive eavesdrop statute valid?




The Court held that the eavesdrop statute violated U.S. Const. amends. IVand XIV. The Court determined that the statute permitted a trespassory invasion of the home or office by general warrant without requiring the belief that any particular offense had been or was being committed or that the property sought or the conversations be particularly described. Moreover, the Court found that the statute's blanket grant of permission to eavesdrop was without adequate judicial supervision or protective procedures.

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