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Law School Case Brief

Johnson v. United States - 333 U.S. 10, 68 S. Ct. 367 (1948)

Rule:

The point of the Fourth Amendment, which often is not grasped by zealous officers, is not that it denies law enforcement the support of the usual inferences which reasonable men draw from evidence. Its protection consists in requiring that those inferences be drawn by a neutral and detached magistrate instead of being judged by the officer engaged in the often competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime. 

Facts:

Police received information from a confidential informer that unknown persons were smoking opium in a hotel. The police went to the hotel with federal narcotics agents, and they all recognized the strong odor of burning opium, which led them to defendant's room. The officers knocked on the door, talked to defendant, and asked her about the opium smell, which defendant denied noticing. The officers arrested her and searched the room, turning up incriminating opium and smoking apparatus. The evidence was admitted at trial over defendant's objection and she was convicted on four counts of violating federal narcotics laws. Her conviction was affirmed on direct appeal.

Issue:

Were the convictions proper?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The Court granted the petition and reversed, holding that the warrantless arrest and search violated the Fourth Amendment, even though the officers may have had probable cause to obtain a warrant. The Court found no exigent circumstances nor was the inconvenience and slight delay in preparing papers and presenting the evidence to a magistrate a sufficient basis to justify bypassing the warrant requirement. The Court held that the evidence obtained by the search should have been suppressed on the grounds that the search was made without a warrant and was not justifiable as an incident of a legal arrest.

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