Rios v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Bonneville Dam

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 364 US 253 (1960)
ARGUED: Mar 29, 1960
DECIDED: Jun 27, 1960

Facts of the case


Media for Rios v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 29, 1960 (Part 2) in Rios v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 29, 1960 (Part 1) in Rios v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 52, Jose Terrones Rios, Petitioner, versus United States.

Mr. Grossman, you may proceed.

Harvey M. Grossman:

Mr. Chief Justice, Honorable Associate Justices of the Supreme Court.

Petitioner Jose Rios has been convicted of unlawful possession of narcotics and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment solely on the basis of evidence which petitioner asserts was obtained in violation of his constitutional rights.

The evidence was obtained by state officers and previously suppressed in a state prosecution under the exclusionary rule prevailing in California.

This Court has granted certiorari to determine two questions.

First, was the evidence in question in fact obtained in violation of the constitutional rights of the petitioner or defendant?

Secondly, if the evidence was so obtained, was it nevertheless admissible under the so-called silver platter doctrine because obtained by state rather than federal officers?

First, the factual context in which these questions have to be resolved.

On February 18th, 1957, plain clothes officers Beckmann and Grace of the Los Angeles police force observed the defendant enter a taxicab at the vicinity of First and Flower Streets, an intersection near the Los Angeles Pacific Center.

The time was shortly after 10:00 p.m.

At the time, neither Officer Beckmann nor Officer Grace had a warrant for search of the cab or the defendant.

They had no warrant of arrest.

In fact, their own testimony states that they had no idea whatever as to the identity of the defendant, the cab, or the driver nor were they searching for a participant in any known crime.

Nevertheless, they testified that they, and I quote, “stake out on the cab and then proceeded to follow it for some two miles until it arrived at First and State Streets”.

Now, their explanation for what seems to be rather extraordinary conduct is as follows.

First, they state, according to Officer Beckmann's testimony, that before the defendant entered the cab, he looked about up and down the street.

Secondly, Officer Beckmann said that some three months previously, he had arrested another defendant not connected or anyway with defendant Rios in the same locality, and this defendant was also using a taxicab, so this paired to be a somewhat suspicious circumstance as far as Officer Beckmann was concerned.

And finally, after the evidence was suppressed in the state court, Officer Beckmann testified that he recalled that the airy in question was one with a “bad reputation for narcotics”, whatever that may mean.

Now, based upon this rather flimsy fact situation, which the Government itself conceded, do not constitute probable cause, the police proceeded to follow the cab for some two miles in an unmarked police vehicle.

When the cab stopped momentarily for a traffic signal at First and State Streets, the police car pulled up behind it.

Officers Beckmann and Grace alighted and approached the cab on opposite sides and Officer Beckmann identified himself to the defendant.

Now, with respect to Officer Beckmann's intentions in that regard, he testified in the state court that he was investigating narcotics, and later in the federal proceedings, added that it was his intention to see if defendant had any narcotics in his possession.

When they went up at the traffic light identified themselves, did they open the door of the cab and make entrance into the cab?

Harvey M. Grossman:

The testimony from this point on, I might say, and I was about to get into that, is a bit obscured, because Officer Beckmann told two stories here.

He told one story in the state court and after the state court suppressed the evidence, suddenly some months later he recalled the sequence of events a little differently, particularly from the standpoint of the timing of the search and seizure.

Originally, Officer Beckmann testified, and I might say incidentally that while there is -- there are differences in the two factual presentations, we don't believe probable cause has established even if we take the best of the many versions which Officer Beckmann testified to.

And I might add that the state court's testimony was received in evidence in the federal prosecution pursuant to stipulation that Officer Beckmann would have testified the same at that time although he did proceed to get a different story.

Now, according to the original report Officer Beckmann filed shortly after the events in question, when he identified himself to the defendant, he saw the defendant extract a white object from his pocket.

At that point, Officer Beckmann said he opened the door of the cab.