Lanza v. New York

LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962)

CITATION: 370 US 139 (1962)
ARGUED: Apr 02, 1962
DECIDED: Jun 04, 1962

Facts of the case


Media for Lanza v. New York

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 02, 1962 in Lanza v. New York

Leo Pfeffer:

If Your Honors please.

The facts of this case insofar as they are constitutionally pertinent, I think are uncontradicted and I think they're undisputed.

The brother of the petitioner, one Joseph Lanza had been arrested under warrant charging him with violation of parole.

He had been placed in jail in Westchester County by the officials of State of New York.

At the request of the Parole Board officials, an electronic recording device was concealed in the room in the jail, in the prison which was used by the prisoner to meet and consult with his relatives, his friends and his attorneys.

The record shows and this is pointed out for some reason, in the people's brief, that there was another room in the prison which was set aside exclusively for attorneys and that room was free of this electronic eavesdropping device but obviously, neither the prisoner or anybody who came to visit him could select the room in which he's going to see them when the prisoner -- and when the wife of the prisoner, his attorney and the petitioner here and his brother came to visit him on separate occasions, he was brought -- they were brought into this room where the electronic device had been planted as a trap.

On the basis of this electronic device, conversations which were had between the prisoner, his wife, his attorney and the petitioner here and his brother were recorded.

Thereafter, the pet -- the prisoner was released on parole by a member of the New York State Parole Board and the circumstances which gave rise to that release caused a State Investigating Committee to investigate.

In the course of this investigation, the prisoner, the petitioner's brother; his wife, the attorney and the petitioner herein were on separate occasions called before the investigating committee and were interrogated regarding any efforts which they have been -- might have made to use, influence or corrupt beings to obtain the restoration of parole of the prisoner.

Each one of the four refused to answer the questions put to them by the committee.

No action was taken against any of the other three except that an effort was made to punish the attorney for contempt.

But that was dismissed by the courts and no -- nothing further was done.

No prosecution was brought against either the prisoner himself, the petitioner's brother or his wife.

However, the petitioner was prosecuted under a New York statute which makes it a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for up to one year for refusal to ask -- to answer a pertinent question, a material of proper question put to it by a legislative committee.

The petitioner was tried and 19 questions had been put before him by the counsel for the legislative committee.

He refused to answer each one of these questions.

He was -- and that had been prosecuted on 19 separate counts.

He was found guilty of all counts, in all counts but the -- and sentenced for the full time of one year on each count.

But tampering justice with mercy -- with mercy, the sentencing judge provided that nine of the sentences would be served concurrently with the other 10 which would be served consecutively so that he was sentenced for this refusal to answer on the base of this one short conversation with sentence to 10 years in prison.

The Appellate Division affirmed the conviction but modified the judgement by reducing the sentence to one year stating that irrespective of whether he had been guilty of one crime or 19 crimes or any amount in between.

As a matter of discretion they would remove -- reduce the judgement to be served for -- to one year.

The Court of Appeals by a narrow margin of four to three, affirmed the conviction although it modified the judgement further to provide that only one crime had been committed.

Nevertheless, it said that the Appellate Division had indicated in his discretion that -- that matches every year and therefore, didn't change the actual sentence but simply declared that he's been guilty of only one crime.

Three of the judges were of the opinion that by reason of the circumstances whereby the information which the questioning was based, these questions could not be deemed to be proper whether the meaning of the penal law which provides the failure to answer a material and proper question constitutes a misdemeanor.

And that -- that's my state -- well, that is not before the Court.

Contending as we have done in all the courts below, that the petitioner's constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and the Fourth Amendment that's made applicable to states, the Fourteenth had been violated, we sought certiorari and certiorari was granted.

We based our case on two interrelated contentions.

We assert that by reason of the circumstances of this case, the defendant or the petitioner was deprived of his liberty without due process of law, within the -- meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment as it is operated by its own terms.

Second, we urged that this conduct on the part of the State of New York would if it had been committed by federal officials been the violation of the Fourth Amendment and that accordingly it is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and that in either case whether it's Fourteenth Amendment by reason of its own operation or by reason of its relationship to the Fourth, renders unusable by the State.

The information gained through this electronic eavesdropping device and that any questions placed thereon could not be or shouldn't answer any questions based thereon could not be the subject for criminal conviction.