Cooper v. California

RESPONDENT: California
LOCATION: Superior Court of Orange County North Carolina

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1965-1967)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 386 US 58 (1967)
ARGUED: Dec 08, 1966
DECIDED: Feb 20, 1967

Facts of the case


Media for Cooper v. California

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 08, 1966 in Cooper v. California

Earl Warren:

Number 103, Joe Nathan Cooper, petitioner versus California.

Mr. Traynor.

Michael Traynor:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case is here because of a vital piece of grocery bag that was unconstitutionally seized from the defendant and unconstitutionally used against him at his trial.

It presents the issues whether if it is ever only harmless to violate the United States Constitution and whether in fact it was harmless here.

Defendant Cooper was prosecuted and convicted for selling two bindles of heroine wrapped in a piece of brown paper bag to a police informer who is both unreliable and untrustworthy.

At the trial, the prosecution placed this unconstitutionally seized piece of brown paper in the same exhibit as the two bindles of heroine and the other piece of brown paper within which they have been wrapped.

He presented it before to the grand jury.

The piece of paper was obtained after the police had set up this controlled narcotic buy.

And on the appeal of this case, the Attorney General of the State of California argued to the District Court of Appeals that this unconstitutional evidence was highly relevant.

Petitioner was hurt in the trial court by the use of this evidence.

He was hurt also in the appellate court by the notion that violation of the constitution can be dismissed as harmless.

I think a fair premise from which to start in this case is that prosecutors act rationally.

The -- when they bring a prosecution against a man, they don't bring it if they believe he's innocent, they bring it because they believe he's guilty and that he'd be -- and that he deserves a conviction.

And in introducing the evidence in that case, they've act on the assumption that that evidence will hurt him.

There would be no reason for a prosecutor to bring in evidence in a case unless he felt that it would contribute to the conviction of a man that he assumed to be guilty.

Why should an appellate court speculate that this decision of the prosecutor was harmless when the man's constitutional rights were violated not only by the seizure of the evidence but by the use of that evidence at trial.

Potter Stewart:

Mr. Traynor, wasn't there a seed of marijuana or something like that also?

Michael Traynor:

Yes, there was, Your Honor.

Potter Stewart:

Is that an issue here?

Michael Traynor:

That issue is not raised in a District Court of Appeals so I don't believe it is an issue here, Your Honor.

Potter Stewart:

That's not; it's only the brown paper sack?

Michael Traynor:

That's right, Your Honor.

That piece of marijuana was unconstitutionally obtained.

I think under the same premises but it is not issue on this -- before this Court.

Potter Stewart:

There's no objection made at the trial?

Michael Traynor:

There was an objection made but it was not raised in the appellate court and the objection in the trial court was not made on search and seizure grounds.

Potter Stewart:

I see.

So you -- you're view -- you concede that the introduction of that is not before us here in this case?

Michael Traynor:

That's right, Your Honor.