Smith v. Maryland

PETITIONER: Michael Lee Smith
RESPONDENT: Maryland
LOCATION: C and P Telephone Baltimore Headquarters

DOCKET NO.: 78-5374
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Maryland Court of Appeals

CITATION: 442 US 735 (1979)
ARGUED: Mar 28, 1979
DECIDED: Jun 20, 1979
GRANTED: Dec 04, 1978

ADVOCATES:
Howard L. Cardin - for the petitioner
Stephen H. Sachs - Attorney General of Maryland, for the respondent

Facts of the case

On March 5, 1976, Patricia McDonough was robbed in Baltimore, Maryland. She was able to give the police a description of the robber and the 1975 Monte Carlo she thought the robber was driving. Within a few days, she began receiving threatening phone calls that culminated in the caller telling her to stand on her porch, from where she observed the same Monte Carlo drive past. On March 16, the police observed the car in McDonough's neighborhood. By running a search on the license plate number, the police learned the car was registered to Michael Lee Smith. The police contacted the telephone company and requested that a pen register, a device that only records numbers dialed, record the numbers dialed from the telephone at Smith's home. On March 17, the pen register recorded a call from Smith's phone to McDonough's home, so the police obtained a warrant to search Smith's house. During the search, police discovered a phone book with the corner turned down on the page on which McDonough's name was found. Smith was arrested and placed in a line-up where McDonough identified him as the man who robbed her.

In pretrial, Smith filed a motion to suppress the information derived from the installation of the pen register because it was obtained without a warrant. The trial court denied the motion, Smith waived a jury, and the case was submitted to the court with an agreed-upon statement of facts. The court convicted Smith and sentenced him to six years in prison. Smith appealed to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, but the Maryland Court of Appeals intervened by issuing a writ of certiorari. That court affirmed the conviction and held that there was no expectation of privacy to cover the numbers dialed into a telephone system, so there was no Fourth Amendment violation of the warrant requirement.

Question

Did the use of a pen register without a warrant violate the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures?

Media for Smith v. Maryland

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 28, 1979 in Smith v. Maryland

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in Smith against Maryland.

Mr. Cardin, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Howard L. Cardin:

Thank you.

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

As modern technology brings to society an improved standard of living and new conveniences, it also presents a serious challenge to the personal rights of an individual.

This was anticipated many years ago by this Court in dissent when, in a homestead, it was stated that solar and formal reaching means of invading privacy have become available to the government.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, actually, your client will be a lot better off if we still had the system where the operator answered when you picked up the phone and said “number please,” wouldn't it-- wouldn't he?

Howard L. Cardin:

If we had that system, then I believe that the government, they staged comparison to voluntarily giving over information might well be founded.

I don't believe it's founded under circumstances here which I do in so many--

William H. Rehnquist:

So, modern technology is actually improving the position of your client in this case?

Howard L. Cardin:

No, sir, I don't believe so.

Modern technology has now permitted the telephone company to give a better service.

In so doing, it has also permitted the police department to use more sophisticated means of invading privacy, if you will.

William H. Rehnquist:

But isn't one of your arguments that under mo-- under the modern technology, whereby local calls simply are not monitored by the telephone company, there is an expectation of privacy because nobody except the caller knows and under the old technology, whereby the telephone company operator asked you for your number, you knew that you were telling the third party what the number was.

Howard L. Cardin:

Yes, sir.

I'm sorry.

I do agree with that.

That is correct.

As the dissent said, the progress--

John Paul Stevens:

Mr. Cardin, in agreeing with Mr. Justice Rehnquist, are you saying in effect that you would agree there would've been no search in the olden days, let's call it, my kids like to refer to it, when-- if it sat-- if a police officer had sat to the operator and broke down all the numbers that from a-- when a particular-- it said, “every time number so-and-so calls, I'd like to know who they're calling,” and he just sat there and wrote down the numbers they would call.

There'd be no search there.

Howard L. Cardin:

No, I'm not agreeing that there would be no search.

What I am saying is that there may not have been an expectation at that point because one is voluntarily turning over.

John Paul Stevens:

Then, if there's no expectation of privacy, there's no-- well, at least there's no-- at least, no Fourth Amendment question.

Howard L. Cardin:

Yes, sir.

John Paul Stevens:

Alright.

Howard L. Cardin:

That is correct.

John Paul Stevens:

Okay.

Howard L. Cardin:

I think there's the search.

I just don't think there's the expectation of privacy.