Coolidge v. New Hampshire

RESPONDENT: New Hampshire
LOCATION: Edward Coolidge's Home

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)

CITATION: 403 US 443 (1971)
ARGUED: Jan 12, 1971
DECIDED: Jun 21, 1971

Facts of the case

In the wake of a "particularly brutal" murder of a fourteen-year-old girl, the New Hampshire Attorney General took charge of police activities relating to the murder. When the police applied for a warrant to search suspect Edward Coolidge's automobile, the Attorney General, acting as a justice of the peace, authorized it. Additionally, local police had taken items from Coolidge's home during the course of an interview with the suspect's wife. Coolidge was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.


Did the searches of Coolidge's home and automobile violate the Fourth Amendment?

Media for Coolidge v. New Hampshire

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 12, 1971 in Coolidge v. New Hampshire

Warren E. Burger:

We’ll hear argument next in Number 323, Coolidge against the State of New Hampshire.

Mr. Cox you may proceed whenever you’re ready.

Archibald Cox:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This is a first degree murder case here in forma pauperis and certiorari to the Supreme Court of New Hampshire.

Two constitutional questions are presented, the first is whether a search warrant issued by the Attorney General of the state upon the un-sworn reports, oral reports of his subordinates, while he is in active charge of a criminal investigation and when he will actually himself lead the prosecution, is a valid search warrant for the purposes of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, and of course we submit that it plainly is not.

The second question which relates to an entirely different incident so that we may win on either ground.

The second question is whether a wife’s acquiescence in the taking of her husband’s personal belongings will validate what otherwise is an unconstitutional search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments as this being a state case.

These two questions are better understood if I outline the salient points concerning the case.

On January 13, 1964, a young girl Pamela Mason left her house in Manchester, New Hampshire on a baby sitting assignment.

She disappeared, eight days later, her body was found by the side of the Principal Interstate Highway leading south.

The state’s theory later became that she had been shot by a 22-caliber Mossberg rifle, also, her throat had been cut with a knife and that the body had been dumped there about 9 o’clock or 9:30, perhaps that same evening when it was covered by an unusually heavy snow storm and then after a rainstorm eight days later became visible.

This was a disappearance and crime which excited enormous attention in Manchester and indeed through the State of New Hampshire.

At the time, the police broadcast appeals for people to come forward with the names of anyone who were out of the house that evening and eventually one of petitioner’s neighbors reported to the police that he had been out of his house that night and they went to the house on January 28, police, two of them and questioned him about his whereabouts.

He gave an explanation which unfortunately for him later turned out to be false.

He also showed the police some guns that he had in the house at that time, spoke to them very freely and they asked him if he would be willing to go up to Concorde to the headquarters of the state police to take a lie detector test, he said that he would and since he was working as a bakery truck driver, asked that it be on his day off Sunday.

Then on Sunday, February 2, they did indeed go up to the state police headquarters and he took the lie detector test which produced no affirmative indication if his guilt, but at that time he did admit that he had embezzled a small sum of money from his employer.

When they went back to Manchester, he was questioned late into the night by the police.

He was not actually arrested in a formal sense till after midnight but the trial judge found that he would not be permitted to leave at any time after they had returned from Manchester -- from Concorde.

The first search and seizure of which we complain occurred on that day February 2, while petitioner was in custody at the Manchester police station, two different officers who had never been to his house before went to his house and with the acquiescence of his wife Mrs. Coolidge obtained his guns and clothing and took them away.

Warren E. Burger:

Were these the same things, the same guns that the police had seen before?

Archibald Cox:

These were the same guns the different police had seen before and there’s no indication that these two men had any information about what had happened before.

Warren E. Burger:

Did the wife at this time know that her husband was at least in the company of police and have been for a couple of hours?

Archibald Cox:

Yes she did and I thought it would be convenient Mr. Chief Justice if I’m going to argue the question about the Attorney General’s warrant first and I thought it might be convenient if I refrain from stating the facts about this search which --

Warren E. Burger:

I know.

Archibald Cox:

-- took place chronologically first until I come to what will be the second branch of my argument and then I will address myself to the specific questions that you mentioned.

The second -- so I say petitioner was held at the police station, he was held overnight on this larceny charge and then he was released on his own recognizance.

So that he was not imprisoned during the ensuing weeks.

The second search and seizure occurred some weeks later on February 19, you see almost three weeks after the first.

Attorney General Menard who had taken active charge of the investigation in prosecution, called a conference in his office in Concorde for the purpose of reviewing the evidence that had best far have been developed.

There were president, representatives of the Manchester police and the state police and two Assistant Attorney General.