Brief Fact Summary. Defendant was pursued to his home, and arrested. Evidence used against him was found during a search that was unwarranted.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. “‘The exigencies of the situation,’ in which the officers were in pursuit of a suspected armed felon in the house which he had entered only minutes before they arrived, permitted their warrantless entry and search” and “the distinction prohibiting seizure of items of only evidential value and allowing seizure of instrumentalities, fruits, or contraband is no longer accepted as being required by the Fourth Amendment.”
Issue. “[Whether] there is under the Fourth Amendment a ‘distinction between merely evidentiary materials, on the one hand, which may not be seized either under the authority of a search warrant or during the course of a search incident to arrest, and on the other hand, those objects which may validly be seized including the instrumentalities and means by which a crime is committed, the fruits of crime such as stolen property, weapons by which escape of the person arrested might be effected, and property the possession of which is a crime.’”
Held. No. First, the court made clear that the search without warrant was valid as “the exigencies of the situation made that course imperative.” Under the circumstances “speed . . . was essential, and only a thorough search of the house for persons and weapons could have insured that [the defendant] was the only man present and that the police had control of all weapons which could be used against them or to effect [sic] an escape.”
Second, the court reject the distinction between items of evidential value and those that include contraband, fruits of a crime, etc. “as based on premises no longer accepted as rules governing the application of the Fourth Amendment.” This reasoning is premised on the fact at “[o]n its face, the provision assures the ‘right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects . . .,’ without regard to the use to which any of these things are applied.” Moreover, the transitive nature of property rendered such a distinction meaningless and “irrational” as “depending on the circumstances, the same ‘papers and effects” may be “mere evidence” in one case and “instrumentality’ in another.”
Dissent. J. Douglas premised his dissent on historical precedent and a strict reading of the Constitution, concluding that the “constitutional philosophy is . . . clear. The personal effects and possessions of the individual (all contraband and the like excepted) are sacrosanct from prying eyes, from the long arm of the law, from any rummaging by police.”
Concurrence. J. Black concurred, but did not write and opinion.
J. Fortas, joined by the Chief Justice, agreed with the result, but did not agree with the court’s “repudiation” of the “mere evidence” distinction. Given the nature of exceptions to the Fourth Amendment, an unwarranted search “is justified [by] . . .’hot pursuit,’” but that scope “does not include permission to search the entire building in which the arrest occurs, or to rummage through locked drawers and closets, or to search at another time or place.”
Discussion. “The Fourth Amendment allows intrusions upon privacy under [specific] circumstances, and there is no viable reason to distinguish intrusions to secure ‘mere evidence’ from intrusions to secure fruits, instrumentalities, or contraband.”