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Lewis v. United States

Citation. Lewis v. United States, 385 U.S. 206, 87 S. Ct. 424, 17 L. Ed. 2d 312, 1966)
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Brief Fact Summary.

An undercover officer called an individual and lied about his identity to that individual in order to purchase drugs.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The narcotics transaction did not violate the Petitioners Fourth Amendment rights.


An undercover narcotics officer telephoned the Petitioner, Lewis (the “Petitoner”) to ascertain whether he could purchase marijuana. The officer falsely identified himself as “jimmy the Pollack [sic]” The Petitioner said he could help the undercover officer and told him to come to his home so as to purchase drugs. The officer went to the Petitioners home and purchased drugs. This happened on more than one occasion.
The Petitioner was arrested and charged with violating federal drug laws. A pre-trial motion to suppress was denied and the District Court convicted the petitioner. The First Circuit affirmed.


“[W]hether the Fourth Amendment was violated when a federal narcotics agent, by misrepresenting his identity and stating his willingness to purchase narcotics, was invited into petitioner’s home where an unlawful narcotics transaction was consummated and the narcotics were thereafter introduced at petitioner’s criminal trial over his objection[?]”


The Petitioner argued that “in the absence of a warrant, any official intrusion upon the privacy of a home constitutes a Fourth Amendment violation and that the fact the suspect invited the intrusion cannot be held a waiver when the invitation was induced by fraud and deception.” The court observed, “the petitioner invited the undercover agent to his home for the specific purpose of executing a felonious sale of narcotics. Petitioner’s only concern was whether the agent was a willing purchaser who could pay the agreed price. Indeed, in order to convince the agent that his patronage at petitioner’s home was desired, petitioner told him that, if he became a regular customer there, he would in the future receive an extra bag of marihuana at no additional cost; and in fact petitioner did hand over an extra bag at a second sale which was consummated at the same place and in precisely the same manner. During neither of his visits to petitioner’s home did the agent see, hear, or tak
e anything that was not contemplated, and in fact intended, by petitioner as a necessary part of his illegal business. Were we to hold the deceptions of the agent in this case constitutionally prohibited, we would come near to a rule that the use of undercover agents in any manner is virtually unconstitutional per se. Such a rule would, for example, severely hamper the Government in ferreting out those organized criminal activities that are characterized by covert dealings with victims who either cannot or do not protest. A prime example is provided by the narcotics traffic.”
“[W]hen, as here, the home is converted into a commercial center to which outsiders are invited for purposes of transacting unlawful business, that business is entitled to no greater sanctity than if it were carried on in a store, a garage, a car, or on the street. A government agent, in the same manner as a private person, may accept an invitation to do business and may enter upon the premises for the very purposes contemplated by the occupant. Of course, this does not mean that, whenever entry is obtained by invitation and the locus is characterized as a place of business, an agent is authorized to conduct a general search for incriminating materials.”


“In short, this case involves the exercise of no governmental power to intrude upon protected premises; the visitor was invited and willingly admitted by the suspect. It concerns no design on the part of a government agent to observe or hear what was happening in the privacy of a home; the suspect chose the location where the transaction took place. It presents no question of the invasion of the privacy of a dwelling; the only statements repeated were those that were willingly made to the agent and the only things taken were the packets of marihuana voluntarily transferred to him. The pretense resulted in no breach of privacy; it merely encouraged the suspect to say things which he was willing and anxious to say to anyone who would be interested in purchasing marihuana.”

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