United States v. Van Leeuwen

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: 17th Judicial Circuit Green County Alabama Jury Commission

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1969-1970)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 397 US 249 (1970)
ARGUED: Feb 25, 1970
DECIDED: Mar 23, 1970

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Van Leeuwen

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 25, 1970 in United States v. Van Leeuwen

Warren E. Burger:

Number 403, United States against Van Leeuwen.

Mr. Solicitor General, you may proceed whenever you’re ready.

Erwin N. Griswold:

May it please the Court.

This is a criminal case here on certiorari from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

It involves an interesting and novel question under the Fourth Amendment with respect to search and seizure.

The facts, the underlying facts in this case occurred on March 28 and 29, 1968.

On that day, not quite two years ago, at 1:30 pm at the United States Post Office at Mt. Vernon in the State of Washington, the respondent appeared, deposited for mailing two heavy packages, 12 pounds each.

It is relevant that the post office at Mt. Vernon, Washington is in the western part of the State of Washington and about 60 miles south of the Canadian border.

One of these packages was addressed to a post office box in Van Nuys, California and the other two to a post office box in Nashville, Tennessee.

Both bore a return address in a neighboring town adjacent to Mt. Vernon.

Postage was paid at the airmail rate.

The packages were registered and insured, each one for $10,000.00, a total of $20,000.00 for the two, and in response to a request from the post office clerk, it was declared that they contained coins or a coin collection.

The post office clerk was suspicious and he immediately advised an officer of the Mt. Vernon police who happened to be in the lobby of his suspicions, and Captain Belgard of the police observed the car departing and noticed that it had British Columbia license plates.

The package was then examined and the police captain and the post office clerk were both aware of the fact that the address given on the package was of a nearby -- a junior college of quarters which had been unoccupied for several weeks.

Warren E. Burger:

That was the address here, the return address?

Erwin N. Griswold:

The return address, the return address.

Captain Belgard then perhaps somewhat surprisingly telephoned the Canadian Royal Mounted Police and not the U.S. customs or the FBI, but he telephoned the Canadian Police in Vancouver and it was the Canadian Police who put in a call to Mr. O’Hearn, the Customs Officer-in-charge at Seattle, Washington, and the details so far as they were known were thus transmitted to Mr. O’Hearn in Seattle.

By this time, it was about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and Mr. O'Hearn then put in a telephone call to the Customs Office in Van Nuys in California, and he was advised that the addressee of the package being sent there was under investigation for dealing in illegal coins.

By the time he had completed that call, it was beyond the closing time in Nashville, which I believe is three hours in advance of Seattle; it may be two, and Mr. O'Hearn then delayed until the following morning in calling to Nashville, the morning of the 29.

He got similar information from the Customs Officer in Nashville.

I believe he had to do that through Mobile as a matter of fact since the headquarters was in Mobile.

Mr. O'Hearn then prepared the affidavit for a search warrant, which appears on page 5 of this record and of course, the preparation of that took time both for composition and for typing.

It was then presented to the United States Commissioner in Seattle, and that of course took time to find the Commissioner free from other responsibilities and to give him time for consideration.

At 4 o'clock in the afternoon of the following day, March 29, the Commissioner issued a search warrant in Seattle.

Now, Seattle is some 60 miles south of Mt. Vernon and Mr. O'Hearn took the search warrant to Mt. Vernon and there served it at 6:30 pm on March 29, which is about 29 hours after the events first began when the package was deposited in the post office in Mt. Vernon.

And the problem arises because the package was held in Mt. Vernon and was not forwarded at once through the usual United States Post Office channels.

When the warrant was served, the packages were found to contain several hundred gold coins.

The packages were resealed, sent on to the addressees, they were refused by the addressees and were returned to the post office in Mt. Vernon.

Now, other evidence at the trial showed that the respondent had in fact imported these coins.

There was a motion to suppress the evidence of the gold coins, which was denied by the District Court.