Rea v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1955-1956)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

ARGUED: Nov 10, 1955
DECIDED: Jan 16, 1956

Facts of the case


Media for Rea v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 10, 1955 in Rea v. United States

Earl Warren:

-- on the docket, Dantan George Rea versus United States of America.

Mr. Sommer.

Joseph A. Sommer:

May it please the Court.

This case arose in August of 1953 when a federal narcotics agent searched the home of the petitioner in Albuquerque, New Mexico and seized from his home what was claimed to be narcotics and other pieces of property such as tobacco cans and a couple of pipes.

The search and seizure were conducted under the authority of a federal search warrant which had been issued by the United States Commissioner of the Court in Albuquerque, the federal court.

After he had his home searched, a federal grand jury returned an indictment for the possession of marihuana without having paid the necessary tax thereon.

Nine months later, be -- as the case was coming up to trial, the petitioner moved to suppress the evidence.

He did not move for a return of any of the evidence, including that which was not claimed to be contraband.

The Court granted the motion and the Federal Government then moved to dismiss the indictment and it was dismissed.

Thereafter, the federal narcotics agent went to the state official as a state justice of the peace and swore out a warrant under New Mexico law for the illegal possession of marihuana.

It's stipulated that he used the information he had obtained through the federal search warrant to the execution of the federal search warrant.

It's also stipulated, and stipulated at the hearing, that he intends to turn over to the state government for the state prosecution the evidence which was illegally seized and which is now in custody of the Federal Government having been taken under this illegal search warrant.

At this point, the petitioner then went back in the federal court and moved for an order to -- to be served upon the federal narcotics agent to show cause why he should not be held in contempt for having violated the federal court's order suppressing the evidence.

And it further moved that he be enjoined and any federal officials having federal custody of that which was seized from presenting it in state court.

Now, at the present time, the state prosecution is pending and it -- it's at this juncture of the case that the petitioner is seeking to have these federal officials enjoined from using the evidence and the knowledge which they obtained during the execution of this illegal search warrant.

Under the Fourth Amendment, the issues which are raised in the view of the petitioner are, first, whether or not the Fourth Amendment demands as a part of the Fourth Amendment at the remedy of suppression be given where the Federal Government has illegally seized something pursuant to an illegal search and seizure.

Felix Frankfurter:

Is your case versed entirely on the constitutional grounds?

Joseph A. Sommer:

Not entirely, Your Honor.

Felix Frankfurter:

But why do you begin with that?

Why do you begin with the constitutional ground?

Joseph A. Sommer:

I begin with this, Your Honor, because I think that is the -- the strongest point.

Felix Frankfurter:

I wonder how it would be fair to say, you don't begin with the constitutional point, you end with it.

However, that's your argument and department.

Joseph A. Sommer:

Very well, Your Honor.

Felix Frankfurter:

We always wanted a decision on the broadest possible point.

Perhaps, I agree strongly about that because when I was young, I tried to -- just ought to do that, the courts to do that and is also is not our loss in the case entirely.

Joseph A. Sommer:

Very well, Your Honor.

In addition -- still under the question of the Fourth Amendment.

If this remedy is one which the amendment itself demands, the remedy of suppression and in return of goods, in case here there's no contraband involved, then the question is, is this binding on the state courts as courts of -- courts which are subject to the Constitution?

And finally, if it is binding and they could not receive it, should the Federal Government -- the federal courts under these circumstances enjoin federal officials from presenting this evidence in a state court.