United States v. White

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: James A. White

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 401 US 745 (1971)
ARGUED: Nov 10, 1969
REARGUED: Oct 20, 1970
DECIDED: Apr 05, 1971

Facts of the case

A government informant, Harvey Jackson, wore a concealed radio transmitter and engaged in four conversations with defendant White at three different locations: Jackson's house, a restaurant, and Jackson's automobile. Government agents listened to each of the radio transmissions, thereby overhearing defendant White make self-incriminating remarks regarding his involvement in multiple narcotics transactions. Jackson was unavailable during the trial, so the prosecution offered the testimony of the agents who had conducted the electronic surveillance as evidence.


Does the 4th Amendment bar from evidence the testimony of government agents relating certain conversations that occurred between a defendant and an undercover government informant, which the agents overheard while monitoring the frequency of a radio transmitter concealed on the body of that informant?

Media for United States v. White

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - October 20, 1970 in United States v. White

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 10, 1969 in United States v. White

Warren E. Burger:

Number 46 United States against White.

Mr. Attorney General.

Will R. Wilson:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This is a Fourth Amendment criminal case involving a conviction for the sale of heroin reversed by the Circuit Court on the Katz case.

This was a narcotic agent wired for -- with a Kel radio without a search warrant.

It involved the purchase, delivery, payment and the sale of heroin.

The informer to negotiate the parties was not available to testify so the case was proved altogether out of government agents.

One of them whom hid on the closet and others heard the -- some of the conversation over a Kel radio.

In all, there were four kitchen meetings in the home of the informant government agent type, one in the defendant’s home, two in the informer’s car and one in the restaurant.

The facts are that on December 9, 1965, informant Harvey Jackson met in his own kitchen the defendant White.

At that time, there was a narcotics agent hiding in a closet where he could see in here the events in the kitchen and the informant had on him a Kel radio which is a short-range radio and there was a narcotics agent in the car, a short distance away from the house listening to the conversation.

At that time, there was a delivery of one ounce of heroin.

On December the 10th, there was another such meeting at which the same setup with the -- at which time the informant paid a thousand dollars and agreed to purchase some additional heroin the next day.

On December the 14th, the informant went to defendant White’s home also with a radio on him and went in and paid the defendant in his home and agreed to purchase two additional ounces, at that time a government agent was outside listening to the conversation.

On December the 16th of 1965 in the informant’s car, the informant and the defendant drove for two hours with the informant having on him a Kel radio and with agents of the narcotic bureau following the car and listening to the conversation.

In that series of events the defendant took the informant’s car and let the informant out, and met another man named Sam Minerva who gave him heroin and then he picked up the informant again.

On December the 18th, back in informant Jackson’s kitchen, at his home with Jackson and White at the table, the agent in the closet, the agent outside listening to the radio, there was paid $1,250.00 on the transaction by Jackson to White.

On December the 29th of 1965, White met the informant Jackson agreed to meet him at Lake and Royal Street in Chicago each drove his own car.

White walked up to Jackson’s car and delivered the heroin with Jackson being having on his radio and the agent is listening from some distance.

On January the 5th, in the informant Jackson’s kitchen with the same setup, White -- Jackson paid White $1,300.00.

On the January the 8th, at a restaurant called the Luminar Restaurant which the defendant have some connection with, they met, discussed, again with the radio on and the narcotic agent outside the restaurant listening to the camera -- conversation agreed to meet at leg in Well Street and purchased three things of heroin for $2500.00.

On January the 9th, White, the defendant drove up and stopped and stayed in Randall Street where he was met by Minerva delivering the narcotic and at that time the agents close-in and made the arrest and the case was completed.

So to recap, there were four meetings in informant kitchen. One meeting in defendant’s home, two meetings in informant’s car, one meeting at the Luminar Restaurant and addition to that, an overhearing on the telephone, the very offset of the Katz case where the informant called the defendant and permitted the agents to listen in on his end of the telephone through the same receiver.

So, let’s look first at what questions are not involved in this.

We do not have any questions of the Fifth or Sixth Amendment because this is not the overhearing of conversations about past events in the nature of admission or a confession.

This is an overhearing of the actual transaction itself and there is no recitation relied on and put in the evidence or involved here that would involve either the Fifth Amendment or Sixth Amendment questions in the sense of either testifying against himself as to past events or the right to counsel.

And that we think is fairly clear if you consider the situation involving the normal condition of bank lobby now where there is a hidden camera and frequently hidden radio or recording devices, and a bank robber comes in and triggers the camera and the camera records the actual crime itself and the recording device or radio records the words used by the bank robber in committing the crime.

I think no one would seriously contend that there was any constitutional question in the Fourth, Fifth, or Sixth involved in that situation.

Here the radio was substantially the same thing, a broadcast of the crime itself being committed.

The -- White’s conversation and the words used give him an evidence were all a part of the contract and sale, a commercial transaction, a contract and sale of heroin.