Rathbun v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Wolverine Tube, Inc.

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 355 US 107 (1957)
ARGUED: Oct 29, 1957
DECIDED: Dec 09, 1957

Facts of the case


Media for Rathbun v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 29, 1957 (Part 2) in Rathbun v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 29, 1957 (Part 1) in Rathbun v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 30, Floyd Linn Rathbun, Petitioner versus United States of America.

Mr. Hudson.

Thomas K. Hudson:

Mr. Chief Justice, the Court please.

This matter comes before this Court by certiorari from the Tenth Circuit.

A short history of the situation is, that in April of 1955, Rathbun was indicted on two counts charging that he knowingly transmitted an interstate commerce communication containing a threat to injure which is a violation of Section 18 United States Code, paragraph 875 (b) and (c), (b) is the threat to injure or kill for the purpose of extortion and (c) is the threat to injury or kill.

I went to trial in Denver and Rathbun was convicted by this jury.

And the Court, in sentencing him, gave him one year and a day on each count to be served concurrently and a fine of $1000 on one fine.

That matter was appealed to our Circuit Court, in Denver, which is our Tenth Circuit, and the conviction was sustained.

This Court has granted certiorari on a limited situation.

The certiorari which is here and which is confined to a telephone extension, and if the Court will pardon me, I'd like to read what my problem is, is the listening in by a third person on an extension telephone without consent of the sender and interception within the meaning of Section 605, Title 47, U.S.C.A, and the admission in the evidence of testimony of said third person relating to the contents of the conversion i.e.divulgence of such intercepted communication and thus prohibited by the aforesaid statute.

Now, the facts of this case are, shortly, that Mr. Rathbun was in New York City and he had had a great deal of business dealings with Sparks, the complaining witness.

And Rathbun called Sparks from New York City to Pueblo, Colorado by long distance telephone about 1 o'clock in the morning.

Sparks held some securities which belonged to Rathbun and Rathbun desired to have those released.

There had been three conversations previously and Rathbun had an appointment call with Sparks from 1 o'clock in the morning.

Sparks called two police officers of the Pueblo Police Force and asked them to be present at his home.

And they were present there, and at the time the call came in, Mr. Sparks answered the call on the main line and the two officers, that was in the Sparks' living room, the two officers were in the dining room on an extension phone with the phone between their heads listening to the conversation.

Was it a regular extension?

Thomas K. Hudson:

Yes, sir.


Not put in for that purpose?

Thomas K. Hudson:

No, sir.

No, it was regularly installed in the home there and it was not especially for that purpose at all.

It is that testimony to which I've objected at the time of trial and Judge now so ruled the objection and the testimony was permitted.

And that is the error and one of the errors which we cite in our petition of certiorari and that is a situation which brings this matter before this Court and limits it to an extension phone.

And there's -- I believe, there's nothing else that I am permitted to go into in connection with this matter except that one specific question.

Now, there are a lot of things to take into consideration in the construction of a federal statute.

There are only a few words in this particular statute that are of any particular importance that is, they're all important but I have -- I mean, it need determination.

I believe we have to have an authorization here before anyone can listen in on a phone and divulge its content.

There was no authorization by Rathbun to Sparks, however, Rathbun did remark to Sparks over the phone as the record will show, I don't care if you are making a recording of this.

That is --