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Katz v. United States (1967) Case #7 of 10

David A.W. Hittle                              Case #7                                               3/21/2011



Katz v. United States (1967)

38 U.S. 347; 88 S. Ct. 507; 19 L.Ed. 2d 57 6 (1967)


The facts of the case are these: The Petitioner was convicted in the District Court in California under an eight-count indictment charging him with transmitting wagering information by telephone from Los Angeles to Miami and Boston in violation of a federal statute. At trial, the government was permitted, over the petitioner’s objection, to introduce evidence of the petitioner’s end of telephone conversations, overheard by FBI agents who attached listening and recording devices to the outside of the public telephone booth from which he had placed his calls. The Court of Appeals rejected the contention that the recordings had been obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment, because “there was no physical entrance into the area occupied by the petitioner.”


The main issues of the case are these: Was the petitioner’s Fourth Amendment rights violated by the attachment of a listening device to a public telephone booth to over-hear a conversation?


The holding in this case by a vote of 7 to 1: The Court finds that the petitioner’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated by the federal agents.


Justice Stewart opined for the majority in this case: Justice Stewart pinning the majority finds “We conclude that the underpinnings of…[Olmstead v. United States]… have been so eroded by our subsequent decisions that the ‘trespass’ doctrine there enunciated can no longer be regarded as controlling. The Government’s activities in electronically listening to and recording petitioner’s words violated the privacy upon which he justifiably relied while using the telephone booth and thus constituted a ‘search and seizure’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.”


Justice Marshall took no part in the consideration or decision in this case.


Justice Douglas, with whom Justice Brennan joins, concurring….


Justice Harlan concurring. He states: “…As the Court’s opinion states, “the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places.” The question, however, is what protection it affords to those people.” He says: “The critical fact in this case is that “one who occupies it [a telephone booth], shits the door behind him, and pays the toll that permits him to place a call is surely entitled to assume” that his conversation is not being intercepted. Rule: 1) that a person has exhibited an actual expectation of privacy, and 2) that the expectation is one that society is prepared to recognize as “reasonable.”


Justice White, concurring….


Justice Black, dissenting. In his dissent he begins be saying: “My basic objection is twofold: (1) I do not believe that the words of the Amendment will bear the meaning given them by today’s decision, and (2) I do not believe that it is the proper role of this Court to rewrite the Amendment in order “to bring it into harmony with the times” and thus reach a result that many people believe to be desirable.” He continues by saying: “Since I see no war in which the words of the Fourth Amendment can be construed to apply to eavesdropping, that closes the matter for me.” He concludes by stating: “In interpreting the Bill of Rights, I willingly go as far as a liberal construction of the language takes me, but I simply cannot in good conscience give a meaning to words which they have never been thought to have a which they certainly do not have in common ordinary usage.”