Draper v. United States Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Without a warrant, a federal narcotics agent (agent) arrested the Petitioner, Draper (Petitioner), as he disembarked a train. Probable cause for the arrest was based on an informant’s tip, which was corroborated with an accurate, predictive description of the facts surrounding the Petitioner’s return.

Facts of the case

“John Marsh, a federal narcotics agent, was stationed in Denver and regularly worked with James Hereford, a paid informant. On September 3, 1956, Hereford told Marsh that James Draper had recently moved to Denver and was dealing drugs. Four days later, Hereford informed Marsh that Draper had gone to Chicago to pick up heroin and would be returning by train on either the morning of September 8 or 9. Hereford also provided a detailed description of Draper and the bag he would likely be carrying. On September 9, Marsh and a Denver police agent saw a person exactly matching that description exit a train from Chicago. Marsh and the police officer stopped him and arrested him. In his pocket they found two envelopes containing heroin, and they found a syringe in his bag.Before his trial, Draper moved to suppress the evidence of the drugs and the syringe as having been secured through an unlawful search and seizure. The district court dismissed the motion after finding that the officers had probable cause to arrest Draper without a warrant and therefore the evidence was the fruit of a lawful search. Draper was tried and convicted of knowingly concealing and transporting drugs. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District affirmed.”


Did the surrounding facts and circumstances give the federal agent probable cause to believe that the Petitioner had committed, or was committing a crime.
Can probable cause be based on hearsay?


Yes. The informant’s past reliability, accurate description of the Petitioner’s clothing, bag, and date of arrival gave the agent probable cause to arrest the Petitioner without a warrant.
Yes. Hearsay is an evidentiary rule dealing with guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Excluding facts that are hearsay from probable cause confuses the common sense standard of probable cause from the technical, legal standards of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

A tip from a reliable informant, which is corroborated by predicting facts unknowable to a stranger, gives rise to probable cause.
In determining what facts and circumstances will give rise to probable cause, one must view the facts and circumstances as a reasonable person would view them, and not how they would be viewed in a courtroom.

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    The United States Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals, concluding that, under the facts and circumstances, the agent had probable cause pursuant to the Fourth Amendment and reasonable grounds within the meaning of the Narcotic Control Act to believe that defendant was committing a violation of the federal narcotic laws at the time of his arrest. The Court noted that although the information given to the agent may have been hearsay, the informant was known to be accurate and reliable, and the agent was able to independently verify every facet of the tip. Thus, the arrest was lawful and the subsequent search and seizure made incident to the arrest were valid. Therefore, the denial of defendant’s motion to suppress the heroin evidence was proper, and the seized heroin was competent evidence lawfully received at trial.

    • Case Brief: 1959
    • Petitioner: James Draper
    • Respondent: United States
    • Decided by: Warren Court

    Citation: 358 US 307 (1959)
    Argued: Dec 11, 1958
    Decided: Jan 26, 1959
    Granted Jun 30, 1958