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Where officers seek to inspect public documents at the place of business where they are required to be kept, permissible limits of persuasion are not so narrow as where private papers are sought. The demand is one of right. When the custodian is persuaded by argument that it is his duty to surrender them and he hands them over, duress and coercion will not be so readily implied as where private papers are involved.
Having obtained clear evidence of violations of the gasoline rationing regulations through sales without coupons and at above-ceiling prices, officers arrested petitioner, president of the corporation which maintained the offending filling station, at his place of business during business hours and demanded ration coupons covering the aggregate amount of sales. After refusing at first, petitioner soon acquiesced and surrendered the coupons. In his trial for possessing them unlawfully petitioner contended that there had been an unlawful search which resulted in seizure of the coupons and their use in evidence against him, in violation of his rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. The district court found that petitioner had consented to the search and seizure and that no force or threat of force had been employed to persuade him. Petitioner was thereafter convicted. The court of appeals affirmed on the ground that the search and seizure were incident to a lawful arrest. Certiorari was granted.
Under the circumstances, had there been an unlawful search which resulted in seizure of the coupons and their use in evidence against petitioner, in violation of his rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments?
The Court affirmed the decision, holding that the search was permissible because the documents seized were public property in the custody of a citizen, not private papers; thus, the privilege against self-incrimination could not be maintained. The Court explained that, in assuming custody of public documents, a custodian had no privilege to refuse production. The Court concluded that the district court's findings were not erroneous but emphasized that the filling station was a place of business, the officers' claim to the property was one of right, and their demand was made during regular business hours.