Clinton v. Virginia

LOCATION: Alabama State Capitol

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)

CITATION: 377 US 158 (1964)
ARGUED: Apr 27, 1964
DECIDED: May 04, 1964

Facts of the case


Media for Clinton v. Virginia

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 27, 1964 in Clinton v. Virginia

Earl Warren:

Number 294, Catherine Clinton, Petitioner, versus Virginia.

Mr. Childress.

Calvin H. Childress:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

The nature of this case is an alleged unreasonable search and seizure by means of an electronic listening device.

The issues here are whether a city police officer have used an electronic listening device stuck into a party wall and this enabled him to hear everything that went on in the adjoining efficiency apartment occupied by the petitioner, constituted an unreasonable search and seizure.

In addition to this issue, the respondent had raised four questions before this Court.

He has suggested that although this search took place for three days before the arrest of the petitioner that the search was valid as incident to a legal arrest.

He selected that -- suggested that because the petitioner was suspected of running an illegal place that she forfeited her rights under the Fourth Amendment and he's also suggested that evidence obtained by electronic means should not be completely excluded, which point the petitioner does not state and he also asked this Court to review all the evidence if it finds there was -- the evidence found by the police officer was improper and find that there was other sufficient evidence to find the accused guilty.

This is sort of a harmless error doctrine.

The issue as to the unreasonable search and seizure by the electronic listening device, the trial court and the Commonwealth of Virginia are not required to write a written opinion and just rule that it was a proper search and seizure by -- and let the evidence in.

The Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia held that there was not a showing of a physical trespass by this spike.

The spike was just stuck in the wall.

And therefore, that it was not an unreasonable search and seizure distinguishing it from the -- the Silverman case and holding under the Goldman case.

Earl Warren:

Is there any rec -- anything in the record, Mr. Childress, that will show us just what kind of an instrument this -- this is and just to what extent it -- it was -- that that's at the wall?

Calvin H. Childress:

Yes, sir.

At page 31, Police Officer Bates (ph), who used it, suggest -- said that he had a device that would amplify sound so that you could hear it in the other room.

And then he asked -- he was asked, "Was it a spike device?"

He said, "Yes, sir, a small device."

And then on cross examination, he was asked whether it was driven in the wall and he said, "No, sir."

“And was it stuck in the wall?"

"It was stuck in the wall."

This is the evidence as to how this spike device was used.

Earl Warren:

That's all the evidence --

Calvin H. Childress:

Yes, Your Honor.

Earl Warren:

-- from the record?

There's nothing to show to what extent it was stuck in the wall?

Calvin H. Childress:

No -- no, Your Honor.

There's no evidence to show how --

Earl Warren:

I noticed that the -- that the Court of Appeals referred to it as attached to the walls, somewhat, they said, thumbtack would do it.

Is there --