Walter v. United States

PETITIONER: William Walter
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Atlanta, Georgia

DOCKET NO.: 79-67
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 447 US 649 (1980)
ARGUED: Feb 26, 1980
DECIDED: Jun 20, 1980
GRANTED: Oct 15, 1979

Elliott Schulder - for respondent in both cases
Glenn Zell - for petitioners Arthur Randall Sanders, and others
W. Michael Maylock - for petitioner William Walter

Facts of the case

On September 25, 1975, 12 packages containing 871 boxes of films depicting homosexual activities were shipped from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Atlanta, Georgia. Though addressed to Leggs, Inc., the boxes were mistakenly delivered to the address of L’Eggs Products, Inc. Employees of L’Eggs Products opened the boxes and found the boxes of films, which contained suggestive drawings on one side and descriptions on the other. One of the employees opened one of the boxes of films and unsuccessfully attempted to view portions of the film. The FBI became involved on October 1, 1975 and, without making any effort to obtain a warrant, projected and viewed the films.

On April 6, 1977, William Walter, Arthur Randall Sanders, Jr., and Gulf Coast News Agency, Inc. were indicted on obscenity charges relating to the interstate transportation of the boxes of films. Petitioners filed a motion to suppress use of the films as evidence. The motion was denied, and the petitioners were convicted. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed.


Is the warrantless projection of films a violation of the Fourth Amendment?

Media for Walter v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 26, 1980 in Walter v. United States

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments first this morning in Walter against the United States and the consolidated case Sanders against the United States.

Mr. Zell, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Glenn Zell:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This is certiorari from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals involving a conviction of two -- the two petitioners and two corporations for distribution of obscene materials in interstate commerce.

The issues that I will argue this morning involve search and seizure.

To outline the facts very quickly, the FBI was called to L'Eggs Company, it's a stocking manufacturer.

They'd received several boxes of films misdirected to them by Greyhound Bus terminal.

Upon opening the boxes by the L'Eggs Company, they discovered they were not stockings, but films, 871 and 25 different specific kinds of films.

They called the FBI.

The FBI came out.

Mr. Mandyk I think his name is, told them to hold it for him, came back in five days and seized the entire shipment, took it to the FBI office.

Thereafter, two months later, he viewed them in the office.

Approximately two years from the initial seizure, the petitioners went to trial.

No notification either by publication or directly, was given the petitioners, no warrant was ever gotten.

And of course, during the trial, the District Court overruled the motion to suppress based on several grounds.

The conviction -- the jury found the films obscene, found that petitioner is guilty, appealed to the Fifth Circuit.

There was a strong dissent by Judge Wisdom, which laid out our issues very clearly and succinctly and thereafter, we filed a certiorari to this Court.

Warren E. Burger:

When did the -- did your clients first to learn what the FBI had taken possession of the films?

Glenn Zell:

Well, Your Honor, in the transcript, it appears that there was some information conveyed by one of the employees, Mr. Grassi to Mr. Sanders about a month or several days or several weeks after the initial seizure or after the FBI seized them.

Just in hearsay, and he said they heard or that was turned over to the FBI, but they weren't sure, there's no date in the record, and it was not verified or didn't know where to go, what to do and he turned over to his lawyer, which, of course, was me, at that time.

Warren E. Burger:

Did your client ask for the return of the films?

Glenn Zell:

No, he did not.

We didn't know where they were.

Mr. -- Mr. Walter testified, he didn't know where they were himself, he wasn't sure, he was never directly told.

(Inaudible) was just told in hearsay that the FBI might have had them.

He -- we never heard anything from the FBI until, of course, the indictment.

When the grand jury met, we were notified, and at that time, of course, we filled a motion to return the property.

Harry A. Blackmun:

I think that there is no issue as to the obscenity -- the obscene character of some of the films.

Glenn Zell:

Well, I can see it as a -- a trial attorney that it's a factual disposition to the jury.

We litigated the case.