United States v. Kahn

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Kahn
LOCATION: Cleveland Board of Education

DOCKET NO.: 72-1328
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 415 US 143 (1974)
ARGUED: Dec 11, 1973 / Dec 12, 1973
DECIDED: Feb 20, 1974

ADVOCATES:
Mr. Andrew L. Frey - for petitioner
Anna R. Lavin - for respondents

Facts of the case

Question

Media for United States v. Kahn

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 12, 1973 in United States v. Kahn
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 11, 1973 in United States v. Kahn

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 20, 1974 in United States v. Kahn

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice White.

Mr. Justice Stewart will announce the disposition of 72-1328, United States against Kahn.

Potter Stewart:

This case is here by a way of a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

It involves a wiretap which was placed on the home telephones of one of the respondents, Irving Kahn, pursuant to a court order under Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1970.

The order, which was added by a District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, found probable cause to believe that Irving Kahn and others, as yet are known, were conducting and illegal gambling business, and authorized agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to intercept gambling communications of Irving Kahn and others as yet unknown.

The agents intercepted incrementing calls made my Mr. Kahn in Arizona to his wife, the respondent Minnie Kahn at their home in Chicago.

The agents also intercepted incrementing calls made my Minnie Kahn to a known gambling figure.

The respondents Irving and Minnie Kahn were, thereafter, indited for violative the Travel Act.

Upon being notified of the Government’s intention to introduce the intercepted conversations at their trial, they moved to suppress them.

The District Court granted the motion and a divided panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Court of Appeals held that under the wiretap order, all intercepted conversations had to make two requirements before they could be admitted into evidence.

First, that Irving Kahn be a party to the conversations; and second, that his conversations intercepted be with others as yet unknown.

The Court then construed the provisions of Title III as excluding from the term ‘others as yet unknown’, any persons who, careful investigation would have disclosed, were probably using the telephones for illegal activities.

Since the Government had not shown here that such further investigation of Irving Kahn’s activities would not have implicated his wife in the gambling business, the Court of Appeals felt that she was not a person as yet unknown within the purview of the wiretap order.

We granted certiorari in order to resolve this rather narrow issue of construction of this new federal statute.

Our decision today does not involve an attack upon the constitutionality of any part of Title III of the Omnibus Crime and Safe Streets Act, nor does it involve any questions relating to the Justice Department’s internal procedures in authorizing the application for the wiretap.

Rather, the question presented is simply whether the conversations that the Government wishes to introduce into evidence or trial are made inadmissible by the specific language of the wiretap order in this case or by the specific language of the relevant provisions of Title III.

For the reasons spelled out at length in the opinion filed today, we hold that neither the provisions of Title III, nor the specific language of the wiretap order in this case, support the result reached by the Court of Appeals.

Title III requires the naming of a person in the interception order only when the Government has probable cause to believe that that individual is committing the offense for which the wiretap is sought.

Since the Government had no reason here to suspect Mrs. Kahn at complicity in the gambling business at the time application for the wiretap order was made, it follows that she was among the class of others as yet unknown under both the wiretap order and Title III.

We further disagree with the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that the order in this case limited the Government to the interception of conversations in which Irving Kahn himself was a party.

The order speaks of conversations of Irving Kahn and others as yet unknown, not of conversations between Irving Kahn and others.

Since Kahn, therefore, could not communicate except with others, the reading given to the wiretap order by the Court of Appeals would render the others as yet unknown language entirely meaningless.

Consequently, we reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand this case to that court for further proceedings consistent with the written opinion filed with the clerk today.

Mr. Justice Douglas has filed a dissenting opinion which Mr. Justice Brennan and Mr. Justice Marshall have joined.