Katz v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Telephone Booth

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 389 US 347 (1967)
ARGUED: Oct 17, 1967
DECIDED: Dec 18, 1967

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.


Does the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures require the police to obtain a search warrant in order to wiretap a public pay phone?

Media for Katz v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 17, 1967 in Katz v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 35, Charles Katz, Petitioner versus United States.

Mr. Schneider.

Harvey A. Schneider:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

The facts of this case that is now before the Court are really quite simple.

The law applicable is something else again.

But the facts are as follows.

Mr. Katz was surveilled by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a period of approximately six days.

During that period of time, the surveillance was conducted by the use of a microphone being taped on top of a public telephone booth or a bank booth, so it was actually three booths.

One booth had been placed out of order by the telephone company and with the telephone company's cooperation, the other two booths were used by Mr. Katz.

Sometimes he used one booth, sometimes he used another.

The tape was placed on top of the booth or the microphone was placed on top by a tape.

The FBI Agents had undoubtedly read their homework and had not physically penetrated into the area of the telephone booth.

Subsequently after about six days of surveillance, Mr. Katz was arrested.

He was then taken to his apartment building where his room was searched under a search warrant and numerous items were seized from Mr. Katz's apartment.

The issues before the Court are fairly clear.

One, whether or not, the search and seizure or one of the interceptions of the telephone communications was prescribed by the Fourth Amendment; and two, whether or not, the warrant that was used to search his apartment building is constitutionally proper or constitutionally defective.

Potter Stewart:

Was the warrant placed on -- was the warrant obtained on the information and obtained through bugging?

Harvey A. Schneider:

Yes, Your Honor, to a large extent --

Potter Stewart:

Or analyze the wrong word when you say bugging or --

Harvey A. Schneider:

Sir I'm sorry, I didn't hear.

Potter Stewart:

What is it?

I just said bugging.

Is this a bugging thing or something else?

Harvey A. Schneider:

That's a good question, Your Honor.

I'm not sure.

It's certainly the lower court in making the District Court in making its determination said that it did not think it was a bugging device.

It's certainly not a wiretap because I understand that historically a wiretap includes tapping into a line.

They certainly didn't do these.

I -- we consider it generally a bugging but whether to not, it's technically a bugging or a common sense.

(Voice Overlap) it's bugging.