Katz v. United States Case Brief

Facts of the case

Acting on a suspicion that Katz was transmitting gambling information over the phone to clients in other states, Federal agents attached an eavesdropping device to the outside of a public phone booth used by Katz. Based on recordings of his end of the conversations, Katz was convicted under an eight-count indictment for the illegal transmission of wagering information from Los Angeles to Boston and Miami. On appeal, Katz challenged his conviction arguing that the recordings could not be used as evidence against him. The Court of Appeals rejected this point, noting the absence of a physical intrusion into the phone booth itself. The Court granted certiorari.

Why is the case important?

The petitioner, Katz (the “petitioner”), was convicted of transmitting wagering information over telephone lines in violation of federal law. The government had entered into evidence the petitioner’s end of telephone conversations that the government had obtained by placing a listening device to the phone booth that the petitioner used. The Court of Appeals rejected the petitioner’s contention that the evidence should be suppressed.

Question

Whether the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects telephone conversations conducted in a phone booth and secretly recorded from introduction as evidence against a person?

ANSWER

Justice Potter Stewart filed the majority opinion. The petitioner strenuously asserted that the phone booth was a constitutionally protected area. However, the Fourth Amendment protects persons and not places from unreasonable intrusion. Even in a public place, a person may have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his person. Although the petitioner did not seek to hide his self from public view when he entered the telephone booth, he did seek to keep out the uninvited ear. He did not relinquish his right to do so simply because he went to a place where he could be seen. A person who enters into a telephone booth may expect the protection of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution as he assumes that the words he utters into the telephone will not be broadcast to the world. Once this is acknowledged, it is clear that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects persons and not areas from unreasonable searches and seizures. The Government’s activities in electronically listening to and recording the petitioner’s telephone conversations constituted a search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment and absent a search warrant predicated upon sufficient probable cause, all evidence obtained is inadmissible.

CONCLUSION

The Court held that the Government’s eavesdropping activities violated the privacy upon which petitioner justifiably relied while using the telephone booth and thus constituted a search and seizurewithin the meaning of the Fourth Amendment . The Court further held that the Fourth Amendment governs not only the seizure of tangible items but extends as well to the recording of oral statements. The Court also opined that because the Fourth Amendment protects people rather than places, its reach cannot turn on the presence or absence of a physical intrusion into any given enclosure. Following these, the Court overturned the Court of Appeals’ ruling.

  • Advocates: –
  • Petitioner: Katz
  • Respondent: United States
  • DECIDED BY:Warren Court
  • Location: Telephone Booth
Citation: 389 US 347 (1967)
Argued: Oct 17, 1967
Decided: Dec 18, 1967
Katz v. United States Case Brief