Wong Sun v. United States

PETITIONER: Wong Sun and James Wah Toy
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: James Wah Toy’s Laundry

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 371 US 471 (1963)
ARGUED: Mar 29, 1962 / Apr 02, 1962
REARGUED: Oct 08, 1962
DECIDED: Jan 14, 1963
GRANTED: Oct 09, 1961

Archibald Cox - Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States
Edward Bennett Williams - acting under appointment by the Court, for the petitioners
J. William Doolittle, Jr. - reargued the cause for the United States

Facts of the case

Police arrested Hom Way for possession of heroin. While under arrest, Way told police that a man named “Blackie Toy” once sold him an ounce of heroin at his laundry on Leavenworth St. Later that day, police found a laundry run by James Wah Toy. Nothing on the record identified Toy as “Blackie Toy”, but police arrested him anyway. Police then went to Toy’s house where they arrested Johnny Yee and found several tubes containing less than one ounce of heroin. Police also arrested Wong Sun. Police interrogated the men and wrote statements in English for them to sign. Both men refused, citing errors in the statements. At trial in U.S. District Court, Toy and Sun were convicted on federal narcotics charges. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed.


(1) Were the petitioners' arrests lawful?

(2) Were the petitioners' unsigned statements admissible as evidence?

Media for Wong Sun v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - October 08, 1962 in Wong Sun v. United States
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 02, 1962 (Part 2) in Wong Sun v. United States
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 29, 1962 in Wong Sun v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 02, 1962 (Part 1) in Wong Sun v. United States

Earl Warren:

-- Wong Sun and James Wah Toy, Petitioners, versus United States.

Mr. Williams, you may continue your argument.

Edward Bennett Williams:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

When the Court recessed on last Thursday, we were discussing the evidentiary consequences of the unlawful arrest of petitioner, Toy.

Specifically, we were discussing the admissibility of the oral statement which he made immediately after his arrest in his home.

That statement, you will recall, was a denial of the fact that he had sold narcotics to one Hom Way, and a further statement to the narcotics officers that he knew were there was some heroin namely in the home of one Johnny, whom we later learned to be a Johnny Yee.

It is our contention if the Court please, that since the arrest of petitioner Toy was unlawful, his detention was unlawful ab initio.

And since his detention was unlawful ab initio, the statement which was offered against him at his trial was a statement made during his unlawful detention.

This Court, in a line of cases since 1943, has held that statements made by an accused during a period of unlawful detention are inadmissible against him by reason of the fact that they were obtained in violation of a statutory right.

It is our contention if the Court please, that a fortiori statements made during a period of illegal detention brought about by a violation of his constitutional rights should be rendered inadmissible by this Court.

Now, just as physical, tangible and visible evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment had been held to be inadmissible by the Court so too unequivocally, this Court held last year in the case of Silverman against the United States that verbal, oral evidence is likewise protected within the Fourth Amendment.

And if this evidence has seized in violation of the defendant's Fourth Amendment rights, it is likewise excludable.

Now, our research, if the Court please, has found only two cases in all of federal jury's prudence that are apposite to the case at bar, none from this Court.

In 1940, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit had before in a case on all force with this.

The decision was written by Judge Vinson for unanimous court including Chief Judge Groner and Judge Edgerton.

The facts were these.

A taxi cab at 1 o'clock in the morning struck a parked car.

The taxi cab was abandoned by its driver.

The police came on the scene.

They found the registration in the taxi cab, and they went to the home of the appellant.

They made an unlawful entry into his home.

They went to the second floor, they found him.

And he immediately admitted that he had been driving the car which was involved in the accident.

The question before the Appeals' Court was whether that statement, that oral statement made as the result of an unlawful entry might be admitted against him in his trial for drunk and driving.

And the Court of Appeals unanimously held that the protection of the Fourth Amendment and the exclusionary rule, which came into being in 1914 in the Weeks case, rendered that oral statement inadmissible against him and struck down the evidence as having been obtained through the violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Again, in a case exactly in point with the case at --

Potter Stewart:

Before you --

Edward Bennett Williams:

-- bar --

Potter Stewart:

-- before you leave that first case Mr. Williams, as you explain it to us, it strikes me that that case involved these overtones of the Fifth Amendment as well as the Fourth Amendment which makes it, in some ways unlike the case now before us, doesn't it, where here, we're not talking about self-incriminatory statements so much as statements by one person allegedly wrongly arrested which incriminated another person?

Edward Bennett Williams:

It turned out if the Court please that in this case, of course, that statement made by the petitioner was used as one of the most cogent pieces of incriminatory evidence against Toy because that is the precise statement upon which the Government relies as corroborative of a subsequent alleged confession.