United States v. New York Telephone Company

PETITIONER:United States
RESPONDENT:New York Telephone Company
LOCATION:Seneca County Court

DOCKET NO.: 76-835
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 434 US 159 (1977)
ARGUED: Oct 03, 1977
DECIDED: Dec 07, 1977

George E. Ashley – for respondent
Lawrence G. Wallace – argued the cause for the United States and was on the brief as Acting Solicitor General

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. New York Telephone Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 03, 1977 in United States v. New York Telephone Company

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – December 07, 1977 in United States v. New York Telephone Company

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in number 76-835 United States against the New York Telephone Co. will be announced by Mr. Justice White.

Byron R. White:

This case concerns a device called a Pen Register which is a mechanical contrivance used by telephone companies to record the numbers that are dialed on a particular telephone.

Law Enforcement Officers, when they have probable cause to believe a phone is being used in connection with a crime, would also like to use a Pen Register.

This case involves the questions whether a District Court has the power to authorize the installation of a Pen Register on a application of investigative officers, and also whether if the Court does have such power, it may order the telephone company to furnish such aid is necessary for the installation of the device.

The District Court held at the, that it had such powers.

The Court of Appeals agreed that the District Court can authorize the installation but could not issue the order against the telephone company.

We granted the petition for certiorari and we agree with the District Court with the reasons which we stated in an opinion on file with the clerk.

We hold that the District Court has the authority to authorize the installation of the Pen Register under Rule 41 of the rules of criminal procedure which authorizes issuance of warrants and under the All Writs Act, we also hold that the District court has the power to issue the order that it did against the Telephone Company.

So we reverse the Court Appeals in that respect.

The Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Blackmun, Mr. Justice Powell, Mr. Justice Rehnquist have joined the opinion that I have written.

Each of the other justices has joined one or more parts of the opinion.

Mr. Justice Stewart has filed an opinion, concurring in part and dissenting in part.

Mr. Justice Stevens has filed an opinion dissenting in part.

Mr. Justice Brennan and Mr. Justice Marshall have joined that opinion and Mr. Justice Stewart has joined Part 2 of Mr. Justice Steven’s opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice White.