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United States v. White - 401 U.S. 745, 91 S. Ct. 1122 (1971)


Concededly a police agent who conceals his police connections may write down for official use his conversations with a defendant and testify concerning them, without a warrant authorizing his encounters with the defendant and without otherwise violating the latter's U.S. Const. amend IV rights. For constitutional purposes, no different result is required if the agent instead of immediately reporting and transcribing his conversations with defendant, either simultaneously records them with electronic equipment which he is carrying on his person, or carries radio equipment which simultaneously transmits the conversations either to recording equipment located elsewhere or to other agents monitoring the transmitting frequency.


In 1966, respondent James A. White was tried and convicted under two consolidated indictments charging various illegal transactions in narcotics He was fined and sentenced as a second offender to 25-year concurrent sentences. One government agent related certain conversations which had occurred between defendant White and a government informant, Harvey Jackson, and which the agents overheard by monitoring the frequency of a radio transmitter carried by Jackson and concealed on his person. On four occasions the conversations took place in Jackson's home. Each of these conversations was overheard by an agent concealed in a kitchen closet with Jackson's consent and by a second agent outside the house using a radio receiver. Four other conversations -- one in respondent's home, one in a restaurant, and two in Jackson's car -- were overheard by the use of radio equipment. The prosecution was unable to locate and produce Jackson at the trial and the trial court overruled objections to the testimony of the agents who conducted the electronic surveillance. The jury returned a guilty verdict and defendant appealed. The lower appellate court reversed respondent's conviction, and the government sought writ of certiorari.


Does the Fourth Amendment bar from evidence, the testimony of governmental agents who overheard information y electronic surveillance?




The Court held that the testimony of governmental agents who related certain conversations which had occurred between defendant and a government informant, and which the agents overheard by monitoring the frequency of a radio transmitter carried by the informant and concealed on his person was not precluded by the Fourth Amendment. The Court also concluded that the lower appellate court misinterpreted both Katz and U.S. Const. amend. IV and erred in applying Katz to events that occurred before that decision was rendered by the court. The Court concluded that under pre-Katz law, the electronic surveillance of defendant involved did not violate his rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

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