Silverman v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Grace-New Haven Community Hospital

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

CITATION: 365 US 505 (1961)
ARGUED: Dec 05, 1960
DECIDED: Mar 06, 1961

Facts of the case


Media for Silverman v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 05, 1960 (Part 2) in Silverman v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 05, 1960 (Part 1) in Silverman v. United States

Earl Warren:

Mr. Williams, you may proceed.

Edward Bennett Williams:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

The question that's presented to the Court in the case at bar concerns the admissibility of evidence in federal courts.

Precisely stated, the question is whether evidence which is obtained by agents of the Federal Government by the use of this electronic eavesdropping device which his known as a spike microphone which was inserted into the party wall of the private dwelling house of petitioners so that all of the conversations which took place in that dwelling house over a period of days could be overheard by the federal agents, whether evidence of that kind may be offered against the petitioners in a criminal proceeding.

The facts are these, if the Court please --

John M. Harlan II:

This is the device?

Edward Bennett Williams:

This is precisely the device, Your Honor.

The facts are these.

In July of 1958, the petitioners were indicted for violation of the gambling statutes of the District of Columbia and for violation of the Federal Gambling Tax Act.

The indicted sounded in four counts.

They charged the petitioners, in substance, with accepting over the telephone wagers on baseball games and boxing matches.

It charged that these were accepted in a row house at 408 21st Street, Northwest in the District of Columbia.

The house was a two-story dwelling house with four rooms, two upstairs and two downstairs.

On April 30 of 1958, a search was made of these premises pursuant to a search warrant issued by the United States Commissioner for the District of Columbia.

As a result of that search, certain records were seized and certain -- certain paraphernalia were seized.

The search warrant was issued, if the Court please, on an affidavit that was signed by two agents of the Bureau of Internal Revenue Service and by an officer of the Metropolitan Police Department and, it alleged in essence that over a period of nine days from April 21 to April 30, from a vantage point, otherwise unidentified, they were able to overhear conversations in which the petitioners were engaged and which they characterized as wagering conversations.

A motion was filed under Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure for the return and the suppression of evidence, for the return of the physical object seized in their suppression, and for the suppression of the conversations overheard on the ground that they were in violation of petitioners' rights under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

That motion came on for hearing before Judge Holtzoff of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

At the hearing, a stipulation was entered into by counsel for the Government with counsel for the defense that agents of the Federal Government had gone onto the premises at 410 21st Street which was the row house immediately contiguous to the petitioners' that they have gone unto those premises with the consent of the owner and that, by use of this microphone, they had overheard the conversations which were spelled out in the affidavit on which the search warrant was issued.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Mr. Williams, is that a custom made or an assembly line?

Edward Bennett Williams:

I hope it's not an assembly line article, Mr. Justice Brennan, but it is an article which has some widespread use at the present time by federal law enforcement agents.

Potter Stewart:

Was the affidavit which supporting the search warrant, does that affidavit appear in the record here?

Edward Bennett Williams:

It does, sir.

The affidavit appears in the record next to the motion for the return suppression of evidence.

It appears, Mr. Justice Stewart, at page 12 of the record.

Now, the stipulation entered into before the judge on the motion was to the effect that this device was --

Felix Frankfurter:

That is not the search warrant itself.

That's the descript --

Edward Bennett Williams:

That's the effort --

Felix Frankfurter:

-- that's annexed -- that was annexed to your motion for suppression.