|Brinegar v. United States
[ Rutledge ]
[ Burton ]
[ Jackson ]
Brinegar v. United States
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT
MR. JUSTICE JACKSON, dissenting.
When this Court recently has promulgated a philosophy that some rights derived from the Constitution are entitled to "a preferred position," Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105, 115, dissent at p. 166; 319 U.S. 105, 115, dissent at p. 166; Saia v. New York, 334 U.S. 558, 562, I have not agreed. We cannot give some constitutional rights a preferred position without relegating others to a deferred position; we can establish no firsts without thereby establishing seconds. Indications are not wanting that Fourth Amendment freedoms are tacitly marked as secondary rights, to be relegated to a deferred position.
The Fourth Amendment states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
These, I protest, are not mere second-class rights, but belong in the catalog of indispensable freedoms. Among deprivations of rights, none is so effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual, and putting terror in every heart. Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government. And one need only briefly to have dwelt and worked among a people possessed of many admirable qualities but deprived of these rights to know that the human personality [p181] deteriorates and dignity and self-reliance disappear where homes, persons and possessions are subject at any hour to unheralded search and seizure by the police.
But the right to be secure against searches and seizures is one of the most difficult to protect. Since the officers are themselves the chief invaders, there is no enforcement outside of court.
Only occasional and more flagrant abuses come to the attention of the courts, and then only those where the search and seizure yields incriminating evidence and the defendant is at least sufficiently compromised to be indicted. If the officers raid a home, an office, or stop and search an automobile but find nothing incriminating, this invasion of the personal liberty of the innocent too often finds no practical redress. There may be, and I am convinced that there are, many unlawful searches of homes and automobiles of innocent people which turn up nothing incriminating, in which no arrest is made, about which courts do nothing, and about which we never hear.
Courts can protect the innocent against such invasions only indirectly and through the medium of excluding evidence obtained against those who frequently are guilty. Federal courts have used this method of enforcement of the Amendment, in spite of its unfortunate consequences on law enforcement, although many state courts do not. This inconsistency does not disturb me, for local excesses or invasions of liberty are more amenable to political correction, the Amendment was directed only against the new and centralized government, and any really dangerous threat to the general liberties of the people can come only from this source. We must therefore look upon the exclusion of evidence in federal prosecutions, if obtained in violation of the Amendment, as a means of extending protection against the central government's agencies. So a search against Brinegar's car must be regarded as a search of the car of Everyman. [p182]
We must remember that the extent of any privilege of search and seizure without warrant which we sustain, the officers interpret and apply themselves and will push to the limit. We must remember, too, that freedom from unreasonable search differs from some of the other rights of the Constitution in that there is no way in which the innocent citizen can invoke advance protection. For example, any effective interference with freedom of the press, or free speech, or religion, usually requires a course of suppressions against which the citizen can, and often does, go to the court and obtain an injunction. Other rights, such as that to an impartial jury or the aid of counsel, are within the supervisory power of the courts themselves. Such a right as just compensation for the taking of private property may be vindicated after the act in terms of money.
But an illegal search and seizure usually is a single incident, perpetrated by surprise, conducted in haste, kept purposely beyond the court's supervision, and limited only by the judgment and moderation of officers whose own interests and records are often at stake in the search. There is no opportunity for injunction or appeal to disinterested intervention. The citizen's choice is quietly to submit to whatever the officers undertake or to resist at risk of arrest or immediate violence.
And we must remember that the authority which we concede to conduct searches and seizures without warrant may be exercised by the most unfit and ruthless officers, as well as by the fit and responsible, and resorted to in case of petty misdemeanors as well as in the case of the gravest felonies.
With this prologue, I come to the case of Brinegar. His automobile was one of his "effects," and hence within the express protection of the Fourth Amendment. Undoubtedly the automobile presents peculiar problems for enforcement agencies, is frequently a facility for the perpetration of crime, and an aid in the escape of criminals. [p183] But if we are to make judicial exceptions to the Fourth Amendment for these reasons, it seems to me they should depend somewhat upon the gravity of the offense. If we assume, for example, that a child is kidnaped and the officers throw a roadblock about the neighborhood and search every outgoing car, it would be a drastic and undiscriminating use of the search. The officers might be unable to show probable cause for searching any particular car. However, I should candidly strive hard to sustain such an action, executed fairly and in good faith, because it might be reasonable to subject travelers to that indignity if it was the only way to save a threatened life and detect a vicious crime. But I should not strain to sustain such a roadblock and universal search to salvage a few bottles of bourbon and catch a bootlegger.
The Court sustains this search as an application of Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132. I dissent because I regard it as an extension of the Carroll case, which already has been too much taken by enforcement officers as blanket authority to stop and search cars on suspicion. I shall confine this opinion to showing the several ways in which this decision seems to expand the already expansive right to stop and search automobiles.
In the first place, national prohibition legislation was found in the Carroll case to have put congressional authority back of the search without warrant of cars suspected of its violation. No such congressional authority exists in this case. The Court is voluntarily dispensing with warrant in this case as matter of judicial policy, while, in the Carroll case, the Court could have required a warrant only by holding an Act of Congress unconstitutional. [*] [p184]
A second and important distinction is that, in the Carroll case, the lower court had found that the evidence showed probable cause for that search, while in this case, two courts below have held that (except for evidence turned up after the search, which we consider later) there was not probable cause. If we assume the facts to be indistinguishable, this important distinction emerges from the decisions: Carroll held only that these facts permitted a District Court, if so convinced, to find probable cause from them. The Court now holds these facts require a finding of probable cause. This shift from a permissive to a mandatory basis is a shift of no inconsiderable significance.
While the Court sustained the search without warrant in the Carroll case, it emphatically declined to dispense with the necessity for evidence of probable cause for making such a search. It said:
It would be intolerable and unreasonable if a prohibition agent were authorized to [p185] stop every automobile on the chance of finding liquor, and thus subject all persons lawfully using the highways to the inconvenience and indignity of such a search. Travelers may be so stopped in crossing an international boundary because of national self-protection reasonably requiring one entering the country to identify himself as entitled to come in, and his belongings as effects which may be lawfully brought in. But those lawfully within the country, entitled to use the public highways, have a right to free passage without interruption or search unless there is known to a competent official authorized to search, probable cause for believing that their vehicles are carrying contraband or illegal merchandise.
267 U.S. 132 at 153.
Analysis of the Carroll facts shows that, while several facts are common to the two cases, the settings from which those facts take color and meaning differ in essential respects.
In the Carroll case, the primary and the ultimate fact that the accused was engaged in liquor running was not surmise or hearsay, as it is here. Carroll and his companion, some time before their arrest, had come to meet the two arresting officers, not then known as officials, upon the understanding that they were customers wanting liquor. Carroll promised to sell and deliver them three cases at $130 a case. For some reason, there was a failure to deliver, but when the officers arrested them, they had this positive and personal knowledge that these men were trafficking in liquor. Also, it is to be noted that the officers, when bargaining for liquor, saw and learned the number of the car these bootleggers were using in the business and, at the time of the arrest, recognized it as the same car.
Then this Court took judicial notice that the place whence Carroll, when stopped, was coming, on the international boundary, "is one of the most active centers [p186] for introducing illegally into this country spirituous liquors for distribution into the interior." 267 U.S. at 160. These facts provided the very foundation of the opinion of this Court on the subject of probable cause, which it summed up as follows:
The partners in the original combination to sell liquor in Grand Rapids were together in the same automobile they had been in the night when they tried to furnish the whiskey to the officers which was thus identified as part of the firm equipment. They were coming from the direction of the great source of supply for their stock to Grand Rapids, where they plied their trade. That the officers, when they saw the defendants, believed that they were carrying liquor we can have no doubt, and we think it is equally clear that they had reasonable cause for thinking so.
267 U.S. at 160.
Not only did the Court rely almost exclusively on information gained in personal negotiations of the officers to buy liquor from defendants to show probable cause, but the dissenting members asserted it to be the only circumstance which could have subjected the accused to any reasonable suspicion. And that is the sort of direct evidence on personal knowledge that is lacking here.
In contrast, the proof that Brinegar was trafficking in illegal liquor rests on inferences from two circumstances, neither one of which would be allowed to be proved at a trial: one, it appears that the same officers previously had arrested Brinegar on the same charge. But there had been no conviction, and it does not appear whether the circumstances of the former arrest indicated any strong probability of it. In any event, this evidence of a prior arrest of the accused would not even be admissible in a trial to prove his guilt on this occasion.
As a second basis for inference, the officers also say that Brinegar had the reputation of being a liquor runner. The weakness of this hearsay evidence is revealed by contrasting [p187] it with the personal negotiations which proved that Carroll was one. The officers' testimony of reputation would not be admissible in a trial of defendant unless he was unwise enough to open the subject himself by offering character testimony. See Greer v. United States, 245 U.S. 559, 560.
I do not say that no evidence which would be inadmissible to prove guilt at a trial may be considered in weighing probable cause, but I am surprised that the Court is ready to rule that inadmissible evidence alone, as to vital facts without which other facts give little indication of guilt, establish probable cause as matter of law. The only other fact is that officer Malsed stated that twice, on September 23 and on September 30, about six months before this arrest, he saw Brinegar in a Missouri town, where liquor is lawful, loading liquor into a truck, not the car in this case. That is all. The Court from that draws the inference which the courts below, familiar, we presume, with the local conditions, refused to draw, viz., that to be seen loading liquor into a truck where it is lawful is proof that defendant is unlawfully trafficking in liquor some distance away. There is not, as in the Carroll case, evidence that he was offering liquor for sale to anybody at any time. In the Carroll case, the offer to sell liquor to the officers would itself have been a law violation. It seems rather foggy reasoning to say that the courts are obliged to draw the same conclusion from legal conduct as from illegal conduct.
I think we cannot say the lower courts were wrong as matter of law in holding that there was no probable cause up to the time the car was put off the road and stopped, and that we cannot say it was proper to consider the deficiency supplied by what followed. When these officers engaged in a chase at speeds dangerous to those who participated, and to other lawful wayfarers, and ditched the defendant's car, they were either taking the [p188] initial steps in arrest, search and seizure or they were committing a completely lawless and unjustifiable act. That they intended to set out on a search is unquestioned, and there seems no reason to doubt that, in their own minds, they thought there was cause and right to search. They have done exactly what they would have done, and done rightfully, if they had been executing a warrant. At all events, whatever it may have lacked technically of arrest, search and seizure, it was a form of coercion and duress under color of official authority -- and a very formidable type of duress at that.
I do not, of course, contend that officials may never stop a car on the highway without the halting's being considered an arrest or a search. Regulations of traffic, identifications where proper, traffic census, quarantine regulations, and many other causes give occasion to stop cars in circumstances which do not imply arrest or charge of crime. And to trail or pursue a suspected car to its destination, to observe it and keep it under surveillance, is not, in itself, an arrest nor a search. But when a car is forced off the road, summoned to stop by a siren, and brought to a halt under such circumstances as are here disclosed, we think the officers are then in the position of one who has entered a home: the search, at its commencement, must be valid, and cannot be saved by what it turns up. Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10"]333 U.S. 10; 333 U.S. 10; McDonald v. United States, 335 U.S. 451, and see Nueslein v. District of Columbia, 73 App.D.C. 85, 115 F.2d 690.
The findings of the two courts below make it clear that this search began and proceeded through critical and coercive phases without the justification of probable cause. What it yielded cannot save it. I would reverse the judgment.
MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER and MR. JUSTICE MURPHY join in this opinion.
* The Carroll case was based on the National Prohibition Act, 41 Stat. 305. Section 26 of that statute provided that, when an officer discovered any person transporting liquor in violation of the law, in any vehicle, it was the officer's duty to seize the liquor, take possession of the vehicle, and arrest any person found in charge thereof. The officer was required to proceed at once against any such person, but, if no one was found claiming the vehicle, it was to be sold after appropriate notice, and the proceeds paid into the Treasury. Section 25 of the Act authorized search warrants for private dwellings but only if they were being used in the illicit liquor business.
It had been proposed to amend the statute to forbid search of an automobile without warrant. After disagreement between the House and the Senate, that restriction was finally rejected. In the Carroll case, the legislative history of this proposed (Stanley) amendment was considered at length. 267 U.S. 144-146. The Court then concluded, 267 U.S. 147, that, without the amendment, the Act "left the way open for searching an automobile . . . without a warrant, if the search was not malicious or without probable cause." And it stated the issue thus:
The intent of Congress to make a distinction between the necessity for a search warrant in the searching of private dwellings and in that of automobiles and other road vehicles is [sic] the enforcement of the Prohibition Act is thus clearly established by the legislative history of the Stanley Amendment. Is such a distinction consistent with the Fourth Amendment? . . .