Adams v. Williams

PETITIONER: Frederick E. Adams
RESPONDENT: Robert Williams
LOCATION: Gas station (where informant met with police officer)

DOCKET NO.: 70-283
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 407 US 143 (1972)
ARGUED: Apr 10, 1972
DECIDED: Jun 12, 1972

Donald A. Browne - for petitioner
Edward F. Hennessey, III - for respondent

Facts of the case

During the early morning hours of October 30, 1966, an individual approached a police officer in a gas station parking lot in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and informed him that another individual in a nearby vehicle was carrying narcotics and had a gun at his waist. The officer approached the vehicle on foot and asked the occupant, Robert Williams, to open the door. When Williams rolled down the window instead, the officer reached into the car and removed a gun from Williams’ waistband, though the gun was not visible from outside the vehicle. The officer then arrested Williams for unlawful possession of a firearm and proceeded to search his vehicle, where he found heroin. Williams was convicted in a Connecticut state court of possession of a handgun and heroin.

After the Supreme Court of Connecticut affirmed the conviction, Williams filed a claim against the prison warden, Frederick Adams, in which he alleged that the state of Connecticut continued to detain him unlawfully as a prisoner. Williams argued that the handgun and drugs were discovered through an unlawful search and should not have been admitted into evidence at his trial. The district court denied his petition. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit sided with Williams and ordered that his conviction be set aside.



Does the Fourth Amendment allow a police officer, acting only on a tip from an informant, to approach a person and remove a weapon concealed in the person’s waistband?

Media for Adams v. Williams

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 10, 1972 in Adams v. Williams

Warren E. Burger:

-- in number 70-283, Adams against Williams.

Mr. Browne you may proceed.

Donald A. Browne:

Thank you, Your Honor.

So Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This matter evolves from a petition for a writ of habeas corpus which was filed by the present respondent, Robert Williams in 1969 in the federal District Court in the district of Connecticut.

Mr. Williams had been arrested in the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut in October, 1966.

He had been charged with a number of state criminal violations relative to his possession of a quantity of heroin, a pistol, and a machete.

In those state prosecutions, Mr. Williams had filed motions to suppress those items to prevent them from being used as evidence in his state trials.

These motions were denied.

Mr. Williams was subsequently convicted.

He took an appeal to the state's Supreme Court for the state of Connecticut which affirmed his conviction and likewise ruled that the items which had been taken from this possession by a Bridgeport police officer had not been taken illegally or in any violation of his constitutional rights.

Thereafter, Mr. Williams filed the instant petition in the District Court for the district in Connecticut.

That court ruled likewise that his rights had not been violated.

They affirmed the prior decisions of the Connecticut courts.

Thereafter, the matter was appealed to the circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Initially, that court again affirmed the lower court, the District Court ruling by a divided court, 2 to 1 decision.

The respondent thereafter petitioned for a rehearing and a rehearing en banc was granted and the result of which was a per curiam decision which reversed the lower court's, the prior court decisions and ruled, in fact, that the Bridgeport police officer had no constitutional basis or no valid reason for removing certain items from Mr. Williams' possession.

I think that factually the facts are not in great detail.

It is a relatively simple factual situation, in that on the early morning of October 20, 1966, a Bridgeport Police Sergeant by the name of John Connolly who was veteran of 20 years service on the Bridgeport Police Department was on petrol duty alone in the city of Bridgeport in a particular area of the city which was noted for a high incidents of crime.

At that time he was in a gasoline station at the intersection of two public streets in the city.

He met and he had a conversation with a person whom he knew, who was known to him, that particular person indicated to him that there was another person seated in an automobile nearby in a street known as Hamilton Street and that that person, who incidentally developed to be the respondent Robert Williams, that he had drugs and then he had a pistol in his waistband.

Thereafter, the officer proceeded out of the gasoline station across the street of Hamilton Street to the particular automobile.

He knocked on the window of the car, he asked the respondent to open the car door.

In response thereto Mr. Williams rolled down the automobile window on the passenger side.

The officer immediately placed one hand in through the open car window inside of the respondent's coat which was open and directly on to the handle of a pistol, which he seized and removed from the respondent.

Apparently, the coat was open, he apparently didn't touch Mr. Williams' body at all other than inside of his coat.

The revolver was fully loaded.

He then proceeded to place Mr. Williams under arrest, advised him of his constitutional rights relative to statements.

Then a further search was conducted of the person of Mr. Williams which disclosed a quantity of heroin, at two locations on his person and a search was conducted of the automobile there on Hamilton Street which disclosed a large machete concealed under the passenger seat where Mr. Williams had been seated.

As I indicated earlier, there were motions made within the state courts to suppress these items as evidence.