Law School Case Brief
Olmstead v. United States - 277 U.S. 438, 48 S. Ct. 564 (1928)
The Fourth Amendment is not violated unless there has been an official search and seizure of a defendant's person, or such a seizure of his papers or his tangible material effects, or an actual physical invasion of his house "or curtilage" for the purpose of making a seizure. Therefore, the wire tapping of the defendant's telephone conversations did not amount to a search or seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.
Defendants were convicted in the District Court for the Western District of Washington of a conspiracy to violate the National Prohibition Act by unlawfully possessing, transporting and importing intoxicating liquors and maintaining nuisances, and by selling intoxicating liquors. The information that led to the discovery of the conspiracy and its nature and extent was largely obtained by intercepting messages on the telephones of the conspirators by four federal prohibition officers. Small wires were inserted along the ordinary telephone wires from the residences of four of the defendants and those leading from the chief office. The insertions were made without trespass upon any property of the defendants. They were made in the basement of the large office building. The taps from house lines were made in the streets near the houses.
Were the evidence obtained in wiretapped private telephone conversations violate the defendants' Fourth and Fifth Amendments?
The United States Supreme Court affirmed. The wire tapping of telephone conversations did not amount to a search or seizure within the meaning of U.S. Const. amend. IV. There was no room for applying U.S. Const. amend. V unless U.S. Const. amend. IV was first violated. U.S. Const. amend. IV was not violated unless there was an official search and seizure of a person, or such a seizure of his papers or his tangible material effects, or an actual physical invasion of his house or curtilage for the purpose of making a seizure. There was no evidence of compulsion to induce defendants to talk over their many telephones. They were continually and voluntarily transacting business without knowledge of the interception. The evidence was secured by the use of the sense of hearing only. There was no entry of the houses or offices of defendants.
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