DiBella v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit

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

CITATION: 369 US 121 (1962)
ARGUED: Jan 16, 1962 / Jan 17, 1962
DECIDED: Mar 19, 1962

Facts of the case


Media for DiBella v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 17, 1962 in DiBella v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 16, 1962 in DiBella v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 21, Mario Dibella, Petitioner, versus United States.

Mr. Lewis.

Jerome Lewis:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This is a search and seizure case which is before this Court on certiorari to the Second Circuit.

The lower court affirmed an order of the District Court which denied a motion to suppress which had been made prior to the filing of the indictment.

Now, every search and seizure case is decided upon its own particular facts, more particularly, the total atmosphere of the case.

The conduct of arresting officer's prior to and at the time of the arrest must be taken in consideration to determine the reasonableness of the search.

Now, the facts in our case are rather unusual.

Originally, an application for a search warrant was denied.

The petitioner was arrested in his apartment in the evening on a five months old invalid warrant of arrest and then a search was conducted as an instance thereto.

The court below --

Earl Warren:

What was the invalidity of the warrant?

Jerome Lewis:

That the complaint did not state sufficient facts to constitute probable cause.

The Court of Appeals so-held and the government does not contest it.

The court below held that since the arresting officer had reasonable grounds to believe that there was a violation of the narcotics law, therefore, under the Narcotic Control Act, the arrest was lawful and the search, as an incident thereto, was reasonable.

However, I respectfully submit to Your Honors that if the judgment of the lower court be affirmed, the narcotics agents can largely ignore the Fourth Amendment.

They can enter a suspect's home irrespective of the time of night or day upon reasonable ground to believe that a suspect had committed a crime no matter when the crime was committed.

In our particular case, it was six months before the arrest was made.

And, in the absence of special and necessitous circumstances, to whi -- more namely, that the contraband was going to be destroyed or that the suspect was fleeing or likely to flee and also taking into consideration the fact that this was a private dwelling and not a movable vehicle.

And, where it clearly appears, as in our case, that the narcotics agents had more than ample time to obtain a search warrant, six months, there is no evidence adduced by the government that the agents, at the time or prior to the arrest, had reasonable ground to believe that the petitioner was committing a crime nor did they see him commit a crime.

This would permit, in effect, the arresting officer to bypass the magistrate to become the judicial officer, the arresting officer, and the one conducting the search, and I most respectfully submit to Your Honors that this would be a dangerous amalgamation of power.

Now, Congress, in enacting the Narcotic Control Act, was particularly concerned about those emergent circumstances where, if the agent had to obtain a warrant, the suspect would flee or the contraband would be destroyed.

And, as we read the remarks by the senators and the congressmen concerning this particular bit of legislation and the reports of the various committees, that's what they were concerned about.

They didn't want to put the narcotics agents in a select class above and distinct and apart from all other agents, but they recognize it and I recognize it, too, that if they -- if an agent had to go to a magistrate when a man was hawking his narcotics on the street, of course, it would be absurd and ridiculous.

By the time they got back, the narcotic trafficker would disappear, the contraband would be destroyed.

But, it is only in those emergent circumstances that this legislation was enacted.

Those circumstances are not present in our case.

We have a very, very unusual situation.

At the time of the argument, the government did not submit one affidavit from any of the arresting officers to justify their entrance into this man's apartment.

United States Attorney, the assistant did submit an affidavit, which he candidly admit it was based upon information and belief in which he says "we saw the man seated in his house in his living room at 8:50 in the evening and we went inside and we arrested him under this whole invalid warrant and then we conducted a search."