United States v. Watson

PETITIONER:United States
RESPONDENT:Henry Ogle Watson
LOCATION:Ship’s Restaurant

DOCKET NO.: 74-538
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 423 US 411 (1976)
ARGUED: Oct 08, 1975
DECIDED: Jan 26, 1976
GRANTED: Feb 18, 1975

Mr. Andrew L. Frey – for petitioner
Michael D. Nasatir – for respondent

Facts of the case

On August 17, 1972, a postal inspector received information from an informant that the respondent, Henry Ogle Watson, was in possession of stolen credit cards. The informant had provided the inspector with reliable information in the past, and, later that day, provided the inspector with a stolen card. The inspector asked the informant to arrange another meeting with Watson to deliver more stolen cards. At the meeting on August 23, when the informant gave the signal, officers revealed themselves and arrested Watson. The officers read Watson his Miranda warning and searched him but did not find the cards on his person. They asked to search his car, and Watson gave them permission. In the car, officers found two stolen cards. Watson was then charged with four counts of possessing stolen mail. Prior to the trial, Watson moved to suppress the cards by claiming his arrest was illegal because there was no warrant, and that the search of his car was involuntary because he was not informed that he could withhold consent. The motion was denied and Watson was convicted.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and held that the arrest was unconstitutional because the postal inspector had sufficient time to obtain a warrant but failed to do so. The Court of Appeals also held that the subsequent search was coerced and hence unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment.


Did the arrest and following search of the respondent’s car violate his Fourth Amendment rights?

Media for United States v. Watson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 08, 1975 in United States v. Watson

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 26, 1976 in United States v. Watson

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Justice White will announce the judgments and opinion of the Court in United States against Watson.

Byron R. White:

This case is here on certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

It presents questions under the Fourth Amendment as to the legality of a warrantless arrest and of the ensuing search of an automobile.

We find that the arrest was authorized by federal statute and did not violate the constitution.

In our view, the resulting search was also consistent with the Fourth Amendment.

Because the Court of Appeals had a different view and on that basis set aside a criminal conviction, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

I am authorized to say that Mr. Justice Powell, while joining the opinion of the Court, filed a concurring opinion.

Mr. Justice Stewart has filed an opinion concurring in the result.

Mr. Justice Marshall has filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Brennan has joined.

Mr. Justice Stevens took no part in either the consideration or decision of the case.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice White.