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Law School Case Brief

DRAPER v. UNITED STATES - 358 U.S. 307, 79 S. Ct. 329 (1959)


In dealing with probable cause, as the very name implies, the court deals with probabilities. These are not technical. They are the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act. Probable cause exists where the facts and circumstances within the arresting officers' knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient in themselves to warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been or is being committed.


A federal narcotics agent was informed by a reliable paid informer that defendant was peddling narcotics to several addicts in Denver and that he would return from Chicago to Denver, bringing back a quantity of heroin, on the morning of either September 8 or September 9, 1956. The informer gave the agent a detailed physical description of defendant and the agent arrested defendant, without a warrant, on his return by train. A search of the person of the defendant yielded a quantity of heroin and a syringe. Prior to his trial on charges of knowingly concealing and transporting narcotic drugs, defendant moved to suppress the evidence so secured, and the District Court overruled the motion. At the subsequent trial, that evidence was received over defendant's renewed objection, and he was convicted. The Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the conviction. The defendant sought review of the conviction arguing that the search and seizure at issue violated the Fourth Amendment and that the use of seized evidence vitiated the conviction.


Did the search and seizure of defendant without a warrant violate the Fourth Amendment?




The United States Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals, concluding that, under the facts and circumstances, the agent had probable cause pursuant to the Fourth Amendment and reasonable grounds within the meaning of the Narcotic Control Act to believe that defendant was committing a violation of the federal narcotic laws at the time of his arrest. The Court noted that although the information given to the agent may have been hearsay, the informant was known to be accurate and reliable, and the agent was able to independently verify every facet of the tip. Thus, the arrest was lawful and the subsequent search and seizure made incident to the arrest were valid. Therefore, the denial of defendant's motion to suppress the heroin evidence was proper, and the seized heroin was competent evidence lawfully received at trial.

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