Palmore v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Wisconsin Eastern U.S. District Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 72-11
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: District of Columbia Court of Appeals

CITATION: 411 US 389 (1973)
ARGUED: Feb 21, 1973
DECIDED: Apr 24, 1973

Erwin N. Griswold - for appellee
Frank F. Flegal - for appellant

Facts of the case


Media for Palmore v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 21, 1973 in Palmore v. United States

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in 72-11 Palmore against the United States.

Mr. Flegal.

Frank F. Flegal:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the court.

On February the 1st, 1971 the District of Columbia Court Reorganization Act became effective.

Among other things that act created the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, a court and its judges hold office for limited terms and vested jurisdiction in that court to hear and determine certain felony charges brought by the United States of America against persons accused violating acts of congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia.

The courts below and the parties have tended to call such acts, local statutes.

On February 23rd of 1971, appellant was indicted in the Superior Court for violation of such a statute.

The crime of carrying a dangerous weapon, in this case, a gun without a permit having been issued in accordance with law.

Since appellant had previously been convicted of another and an unrelated felony and that prior conviction is not an issue here.

The charge against him was a felony charge, if convicted he stood do face imprisonment for up to ten years.

Prior to trial appellant challenged the jurisdiction of the Superior Court.

He claimed that he was entitled to have his case heard and determined by a constitutional court that is of course, a court was then been established in accordance with Article III and presided over by a judge holding office during good behavior.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

And his claim was based upon the fact that this was a felony charge?

Frank F. Flegal:

Yes sir it was.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

In other words, he at least implicitly conceded that he could have been charged honest to mere charge?

Frank F. Flegal:

Yes, indeed so sir.

We make a distinction here and let me just briefly elude to it now and then when we get to the argument address it in full.

Historically, as this court is dealt with in the Article III jury trial cases.

There has been a distinction between minor or petty cases.

Historically, as this court pointed out in the Clawans case, 300 United States.

English judges prior to the adoption of the constitution, judges not of the general jurisdiction of England, held and heard and determine minor matters involving up to one year imprisonment.

Congress has always assumed that to be the case in the District of Columbia and indeed nor has magistrates in the several states, non Article III officers hearing such minor matters.

For purposes of our argument we assume that there is a class of matter and we assume although this court has never decided that a misdemeanor and one year is the appropriate constitutional judgement.

There is a historical basis for that.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

There maybe a difference between a “petty offense” and misdemeanor.

Frank F. Flegal:

Indeed there maybe --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Any event, you say that maybe that whatever the--

Frank F. Flegal:

In any event whatever the law and event, a felony is our proposition in this case.

After that motion was overruled, the trial court proceeded to consider appellants motion to suppress evidence which was based upon appellants Fourth Amendment contention that the method by which police officers obtained the evidence in this case, the gun, was a result of an unreasonable seizure of appellants purse.

The court heard evidence and I put aside for the moment the details of that evidence so that it would be freshly at hand when returned to the Fourth Amendment argument, Fourth Amendment position later in the argument and having heard that evidence overruled appellant's objection.