Abel v. United States

PETITIONER: Rudolph Ivanovich Abel also known as 'Mark' and also known as Martin Collins and Emil R. Goldfus
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Latham Hotel

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 362 US 217 (1960)
ARGUED: Feb 24, 1959 / Feb 25, 1959
REARGUED: Nov 09, 1959
DECIDED: Mar 28, 1960

James B. Donovan - for the petitioner
J. Lee Rankin - Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States

Facts of the case

Rudolf Ivanovich Abel maintained an artist’s studio in Brooklyn Heights, New York while living in New York at various inexpensive lodgings. In early May of 1957, Reino Hayhanen informed the American Embassy in Paris that he had been acting as a secret agent for the Soviet Union in the United States since 1952. He also informed the embassy that he had assisted a Soviet agent he only knew as “Mark”, whom he identified as a resident agent in the United States with the military rank of colonel. Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) agents began a long investigation of Abel, but did not seek to obtain a warrant of arrest or a search warrant relating to Abel.

FBI agents gave three agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (“INS”) a report on Abel as a suspected spy; the FBI agents also asked them to prepare an Immigration detention warrant. On June 21, 1957, FBI agents found Abel at the Latham Hotel in Manhattan and questioned him unsuccessfully for a half hour. A short time later, INS agents who were waiting outside packed up all of Abel’s personal effects in the room. They seized over two hundred items but found no weapons or evidence of alienage; the FBI also seized several items after an agent checked Abel out of the hotel, including three items contested at trial.

Two INS agents flew Abel to a maximum security camp in McAllen, Texas, where FBI and INS agents interrogated him for four weeks. On the third day, he admitted he was in the United States illegally. A criminal warrant for Abel’s arrest was issued on August 7, 1957 while Abel was in his Texas cell; he also learned that same day that he was indicted for espionage. Agents brought Abel back to New York, where the district court tried and convicted him of espionage. The prosecution introduced seven items seized before the government obtained a search warrant. The United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, affirmed Abel’s conviction, holding that INS agents could search Abel’s hotel room incident to his valid arrest and pursuant to a deportation arrest warrant.


Was Abel properly arrested pursuant to an administrative Immigration and Naturalization Service warrant despite an overlapping FBI investigation for espionage? Were the Fourth and Fifth Amendments violated when the United States searched and seized evidence from Abel while he was in custody pursuant to an INS warrant?

Media for Abel v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 25, 1959 in Abel v. United States
Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - November 09, 1959 (Part 1) in Abel v. United States
Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - November 09, 1959 (Part 2) in Abel v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 24, 1959 in Abel v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 263, Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, also known as "Mark" and also known as Martin Collins, Petitioner, versus United States of America.

Mr. Donovan, you may proceed.

James B. Donovan:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case is before the Court on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The writ was granted by this Court with respect to two specific questions which are, (1) whether the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution is violated by a search and a the seizure of evidence without a search warrant, after an alien suspected and officially accused of espionage has been taken into custody for deportation pursuant to an Administrative Immigration Service warrant, but has not been arrested for the commission of a crime.

And (2), whether the Fourth and Fifth Amendments are violated when articles so seized are unrelated to the deportation warrant and together with other articles obtained from such leads, are introduced as evidence in a prosecution for espionage.

The petitioner, Abel, was indicted on August 7th, 1957 on a three-count indictment in the Eastern District of New York, charging, in summary, the capital crime of conspiring to commit espionage on behalf of Soviet Russia.

Abel is a Russian national.

After a jury trial, he was convicted and sentenced to thirty years in prison, a term that he's now serving in the federal prison in Atlanta.

The conviction, thereafter, was unanimously affirmed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

It will be my contention today that the Fourth and the Fifth Amendments were violated in this case under the circumstances which are set forth by the introduction in -- to evidence, in this case, of various materials that had been seized pursuant to this administrative immigration warrant and unsupported by any search warrant or normal warrant of arrest.

The facts in this case are substantially undisputed although there are disputes with respect to the conclusions, both legal and factual, which that should be drawn from those and their various inferences.

In early May 1957, one, Reino Hayhanen, entered the American Embassy in Paris and stated that since 1952, he had been serving as a Lieutenant Colonel in Russian secret intelligence in the United States performing espionage duties.

He told about the fact that in the United States, he reported to, as the so-called, "resident agent," a man named, "Mark," whom he did not further identified, but who he stated was a Colonel in Russian military intelligence.

He also stated that this man, while living about in the various cheap hotels in New York City, maintained an art studio in Brooklyn which was employed as a cover.

Hayhanen was returned to the United States and his story was promptly and very thoroughly investigated.

He took the F.B.I. to his home in Peekskill, New York, where various materials, all tending to connect him with espionage and to give credence to his story were uncovered.

He furthermore, with respect to his statements concerning, Mark, subsequently identified as the petitioner here, Abel, the F.B.I. at the same time they were investigating for corroboration of Hayhanen's story, they also began to shadow Abel.

They watched the studio.

They found out that there was such a man.

That he did maintain an art studio and that meanwhile he was not living there.

Annexed to our brief, as Appendix B, the Court will find a compilation of all of the various materials that were in the possession of the Department of Justice and could constitute evidence of espionage prior to the detention for deportation of Abel which occurred on June 21st.

It accordingly, would be our contention and not simply that there was probable cause prior to this apprehension I'll describe, not simply that there was probable cause to believe that -- that the man occupying the art studio and as it turned out also room 839 in the Hotel Latham, had committed espionage, but the evidence was rather clear and convincing unless controverted.

This, of course, is important in our judgment because of the fact that it is germane to the issue here, that such probable cause to believe that this man had committed the capital crime of espionage did exist.

In fact, if the Court would turn to the affidavit that was submitted by government attorney, Maroney, in the District Court, the Court will find that -- that he very well summarizes this matter.

It's on page 57 of the joint appendix, and it will show that the conclusion reached by the Department of Justice at that time, the Internal Security Division, was that because Hayhanen said, he, while he would tell the story, must refuse to testify publicly for fear of implicating his family in Russia, that they believe that they could not successfully prosecute for espionage at that time, lacking the testimony of Hayhanen in open court.


James B. Donovan:

Not necessarily, Your Honor, in that kind of detail.

Furthermore, as, Your Honor, knows these warrants can be sealed and indeed, one was in this case, so that for a -- a period of time this -- this could be kept confidential.

But this is not set forth either in the District Court or in the Government's brief in this Court as determined to the question.