United States v. Matlock/Dissent Douglas

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United States v. Matlock by William O. Douglas
Dissenting Opinion
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MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, dissenting.

Respondent William Matlock has been indicted for robbing a federally insured bank in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113. The issue in this case involves the suppression of money found in a closet in Matlock's bedroom during a warrantless search of the home in which he lived. The search of the home, and of the bedroom, was authorized by one Gayle Graff, and the Court now remands this case for the District Court to determine, in the light of evidence which that court had previously excluded, whether Mrs. Graff was, in fact, a joint occupant of the bedroom with sufficient authority to consent to the search. Because I believe that the absence of a search warrant in this case, where the authorities had opportunity to obtain one, is fatal, I dissent from that disposition of this case.

The home which was searched was rented by one William Marshall, and was occupied by members of his [p179] family, including his wife and his 21-year-old daughter Gayle Graff. Respondent Matlock paid the Marshalls for the use of a bedroom in the home, which he apparently occupied with Gayle Graff. Respondent was arrested in the yard of the home on the morning of November 12, 1970. He offered no resistance, and was restrained in a squad car a distance from the home. Immediately thereafter, officers walked to the home, where Mrs. Graff was present. The officers told her they were searching for guns and money, and asked her whether Matlock lived in the home. After being asked by the officers whether they could search the house, and without being told that she could withhold her consent, Mrs. Graff permitted a police search.

During this first search, three officers entered the house. One of the officers testified that they walked through the kitchen, pantry area, front porch, and living room. The officers asked which bedroom was Matlock's. After Mrs. Graff had indicated the second-floor bedroom which she and Matlock occupied and permitted its search, the officers found a diaper bag half full of money in the bedroom closet. The admissibility of this evidence is involved in the instant case.

The officers left the home, but returned a few minutes later for a second search. This time, they found certain other incriminating items in the pantry area. A third search was made in the afternoon. Again, the officers did not secure a warrant to search the home, but waited for an officer to bring Mrs. Marshall home, at which point they secured her consent to a search. Four officers participated in this search, which discovered further evidence downstairs and in a dresser in Matlock's bedroom.

At no time did the officers participating in any of the three searches, including the first search involved in this case, attempt to procure a search warrant from a judicial officer. The District Court, in a finding which the Government [p180] does not challenge, found that there was no exigent circumstance or emergency which could provide an excuse for the Government officers' failure to secure a warrant to invade the security of the Marshall home:

At no time on November 12, 197, was a search warrant obtained by any law enforcement officers for the purpose of conducting a search of the Marshall home. There was adequate time to obtain one or more warrants. There was no emergency, nor danger to any police officer or other persons which required that the search proceed without awaiting the time at which a search warrant could be applied for. The search of the house was not incidental to the arrest of the defendant.

This, I believe, is the crucial finding in the case, rather than the ultimate resolution of the question of Gayle Graff's "authority" to consent to the search. This search is impermissible because of the failure of the officers to secure a search warrant when they had the opportunity to do so.

The Fourth Amendment provides that

[t]he 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.

The judicial scrutiny provided by the second clause of the Amendment is essential to effectuating the Amendment, and if, under that clause a warrant could have been obtained but was not, the ensuing search is "unreasonable" under the Amendment. [1] The intervention of a judicial [p181] officer gives the Amendment vitality by restraining unnecessary and unjustified searches and invasions of privacy before they occur. At the same time, a written [p182] warrant helps ensure that a search will be limited in scope to the areas and objects necessary to the search because both the "place to be searched" and the "things to be seized" must be described with particularity. We have [p183] therefore held that only the gravest of circumstances could excuse the failure to secure a properly issued search warrant.

Up to now, a police officer had a duty to secure a warrant when he had the opportunity to do so, even if substantial probable cause existed to justify a search. In Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, decided in 1948, police officers smelled the unmistakable odor of opium outside a hotel room. They knocked on the door, identified themselves, and told the occupant that they wanted to talk to her. The occupant stepped back acquiescently and admitted the officers. We found that the entry was granted in submission to authority, and [p184] that the. odors alone would not justify the search without a warrant, despite the fact that they would have provided probable cause for a warrant; since, as in the instant case, no "exceptional circumstances" [2] were cited which might have justified the warrantless search, but only "the inconvenience to the officers and some slight delay necessary to prepare papers and present the evidence to a magistrate," id. at 14, 15, we found the warrantless search unconstitutional. Mr. Justice Jackson explained for the Court the need for judicial intervention as a restraint of police conduct before a search was made; and what he said is applicable today:

The point of the Fourth Amendment, which often is not grasped by zealous officers, is not that it denies law enforcement the support of the usual inferences which reasonable men draw from evidence. Its protection consists in requiring that those inferences be drawn by a neutral and detached magistrate instead of being judged by the officer engaged in the often competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime. . . . Crime, even in the privacy of one's own quarters, is, of course, of grave concern to society, and the law allows such crime to be reached on proper showing. The right of officers to thrust themselves into a home is also a grave concern, not only to the individual but to a society which chooses to dwell in reasonable security and freedom from surveillance. When the right of privacy must reasonably yield to the right of search is, as a rule, to be decided by a judicial officer, [p185] not by a policeman or government enforcement agent.

Id. at 13-14.

In Trupiano v. United States, 334 U.S. 699, also decided in 1948, there was a search of an illegal distillery made without a warrant, even though the agents who conducted the search had ample information and time within which to secure a search warrant. Since there was no reason but the convenience of the police which could justify the warrantless search, we found it unreasonable. The police, when not constrained by the limitations of a warrant, are free to rummage about in the course of their search.

[T]hey did precisely what the Fourth Amendment was designed to outlaw. . . . Nothing circumscribed their activities on that raid except their own good senses, which the authors of the Amendment deemed insufficient to justify a search or seizure except in exceptional circumstances not here present.

Id. at 706-707. Speaking through Mr. Justice Murphy, we explained again the reasons for our insistence on adherence to constitutional processes:

This rule rests upon the desirability of having magistrates, rather than police officers determine when searches and seizures are permissible and what limitations should be placed upon such activities. . . . In their understandable zeal to ferret out crime and in the excitement of the capture of a suspected person, officers are less likely to possess the detachment and neutrality with which the constitutional rights of the suspect must be viewed. To provide the necessary security against unreasonable intrusions upon the private lives of individuals, the framers of the Fourth Amendment required adherence to judicial processes wherever possible. And subsequent history has confirmed the wisdom of that requirement.

Id. at 705. [p186]

Likewise, in McDonald v. United States, 335 U.S. 451, also decided in 1948, officers with probable cause to engage in a search failed to secure a warrant, and we found the search illegal. Officers had heard an adding machine, frequently used in numbers operations, when outside a rooming house. Entering the house through a window, they looked over the transom of McDonald's room and saw gambling paraphernalia. They shouted to McDonald to open his room, and he did so. Again, there was no grave emergency which alone could justify the failure to secure a warrant, id. at 455, and again we patiently reiterated the reasons for our insistence that the police submit proposed searches to prior judicial scrutiny whenever feasible:

We are not dealing with formalities. The presence of a search warrant serves a high function. Absent some grave emergency, the Fourth Amendment has interposed a magistrate between the citizen and the police. This was done not to shield criminals, nor to make the home a safe haven for illegal activities. It was done so that an objective mind might weigh the need to invade that privacy in order to enforce the law. The right of privacy was deemed too precious to entrust to the discretion of those whose job is the detection of crime and the arrest of criminals. Power is a heady thing; and history shows that the police acting on their own cannot be trusted. And so the Constitution requires a magistrate to pass on the desires of the police before they violate the privacy of the home.

Id. at 455-456.

Jones v. United States, 357 U.S. 493, decided in 1958, provides yet another instance of our recognition of the importance of adherence to judicial processes. Federal alcohol agents had secured a warrant to search a home during the daytime, having observed substantial evidence [p187] that illegal liquor was being produced. Rather than executing the warrant, they waited until the evening, when they entered and searched the home. We held, specifically through Mr. Justice Harlan, that probable cause to believe that the house contained contraband was not sufficient to legitimize a warrantless search:

Were federal officers free to search without a warrant merely upon probable cause to believe that certain articles were within a home, the provisions of the Fourth Amendment would become empty phrases, and the protection it affords largely nullified.

Id. at 498.

And, indeed, the provisions of the Fourth Amendment carefully and explicitly restricting the circumstances in which warrants can issue and the breadth of searches have become "empty phrases," when the Court sanctions this search conducted without any effort by the police to secure a valid search warrant. This was not a case where a grave emergency, such as the imminent loss of evidence or danger to human life, might excuse the failure to secure a warrant. Mrs. Graff's permission to the police to invade the house, simultaneously violating the privacy of Matlock and the Marshalls, provides a sorry and wholly inadequate substitute for the protections which inhere in a judicially granted warrant. It is inconceivable that a search conducted without a warrant can give more authority than a search conducted with a warrant. See United States v. Lefkowitz, 285 U.S. 452, 464. But here the police procured without a warrant all the authority which they had under the feared general warrants, hatred of which led to the passage of the Fourth Amendment. Government agents are now free to rummage about the house, unconstrained by anything except their own desires. [3] Even after finding items [p188] which they may have expected to find and which doubtless would have been specified in a valid warrant, see Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 471, they prolonged their exploratory search in pursuit of additional evidence. The judgment of whether the intrusion into the Marshalls' and Matlock's privacy was to be permitted was not made by an objective judicial officer respectful of the exacting demands of the Fourth Amendment; nor were the police limited by the need to make an initial showing of probable cause to invade the Marshall home. Since the Framers of the Amendment did not abolish the hated general warrants only to impose another oppressive regime on the people, I dissent.


^ . The second clause of the Fourth Amendment lays down exacting standards for the issuance of a valid search warrant. The Court, however, in effect reads the provision of the first clause of the Amendment proscribing "unreasonable" searches and seizures to allow it to create classes of judicially sanctioned "reasonable" searches even when they do not comport with the minimum standards which a warranted search must satisfy. But the history of the Amendment indicates that the Framers added the first clause to give additional protections to the people beyond the prescriptions for a valid warrant, and not to give the judiciary carte blanche to later dilute the warrant requirement by sanctioning classes of warrantless searches.

The form of oppressive search and seizure best known to the colonists was the general warrant, or general writ of assistance, which gave the officials of the Crown license to search all places and for everything in a given place, limited only by their own discretion. See Warden v. Hayden, 387 U.S. 294, 313-317 (DOUGLAS, J., dissenting). It was this abuse which James Otis condemned in Boston in 1761, see 2 J. Adams, Works 523-525, and which Patrick Henry condemned as Virginia debated the new Constitution in 1788. See 3 J. Elliot, Debates 448. Because the Crown had employed the general warrant, rather than the warrantless search, to invade the privacy of the colonists without probable cause and without limitation, it is not surprising that the hatred of the colonists focused on it.

But in concentrating their invective on the general warrant, the colonists and the Framers did not intend to subject themselves to searches without warrants. We begin with James Otis. In his 1761 speech, Otis not only condemned the general warrant, he also envisioned an acceptable alternative. This was not the search without a warrant, but rather searches under warrants confined by explicit restrictions: "I admit that special writs of assistance, to search special places, may be granted to certain persons on oath." 2 J. Adams, Works 524.

In 1778, during debates on the Constitution prior to passage of the Bill of Rights, Virginia recommended for congressional consideration a series of amendments to the Constitution, one of which guaranteed the security of the citizenry against unreasonable Government searches. This proposed amendment quite clearly presupposed that an "unreasonable" search could be avoided only by use of a warrant, and only if that warrant met certain standards. It did not conceive of warrantless searches:

That every freeman has a right to be secure from all unreasonable searches and seizures of his person, his papers, and property; all warrants, therefore, to search suspected places, or seize any freeman, his papers, or property, without information on oath (or affirmation of a person religiously scrupulous of taking an oath) of legal and sufficient cause, are grievous and oppressive; and all general warrants to search suspected places, or to apprehend any suspected person, without specially naming or describing the place or person, are dangerous, and ought not to be granted.

3 J. Elliot, Debates 658. Accordingly, when the First Congress convened, James Madison of Virginia officially proposed amendments to the Constitution, including one restricting searches and seizures. Like the original Virginia recommendation, it was nurtured by a fear of the general warrants, and emphasized the warrant requirement:

The rights of the people to be secured in their persons, their houses, their papers, and their other property, from all unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated by warrants issued without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, or not particularly describing the places to be searched, or the persons or things to be seized.

1 Annals of Cong. 434 435. After being referred to the Committee of Eleven, the amendment was returned to the floor of the House, where it was approved after amendment in a form which closely followed Madison's original proposal, and with its thrust still focusing on the warrant requirement:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable seizures and searches, shall not be violated by warrants issuing without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and not particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

Id. at 754.

Only at this point was the present form of the Amendment, with its two distinct clauses, first suggested. Mr. Benson of New York, chairman of a Committee of Three to arrange the amendments, proposed that "by warrants issuing" be changed to "and no warrant shall issue." His purpose was to strengthen the Amendment, not to license later judicial efforts to undercut the warrant requirement:

Mr. Benson objected to the words "by warrants issuing." This declaratory provision was good as far as it went, but he thought it was not sufficient; he therefore proposed to alter it so as to read "and no warrant shall issue."


Benson's amendment was defeated at that point, ibid., but when the Committee of Three returned the amendment to the House, it followed the form suggested by Benson. The prohibition against unreasonable searches was made explicit in a separate clause, and a second clause began with the words earlier proposed by Benson. This form was then accepted, id. at 779, and the Senate concurred. Senate Journal, Aug. 25, 1789. See generally N. Lasson, The History and Development of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution 97-103.

The history of the separate clause prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures demonstrates that it was created in an effort to strengthen the prohibition of searches without proper warrants and to broaden the protections against unneeded invasions of individual privacy. See id. at 103; Warden v. Hayden, 387 U.S. at 317-318 (DOUGLAS, J., dissenting). It perverts the intent of the Framers to read it as permitting the creation of judicial exceptions to the warrant requirement in all but the most compelling circumstances. See J. Landynski, Search and Seizure and the Supreme Court 42-44.

^ . By way of illustration, we observed:

No suspect was fleeing or likely to take flight. The search was of permanent premises, not of a movable vehicle. No evidence or contraband was threatened with removal or destruction, except perhaps the fumes, which we suppose in time would disappear.

333 U.S. at 15.

^ . For an example of the abuse to which a warrantless search is subject, see Kremen v. United States, 353 U.S. 346, where the police gutted a home during a warrantless search.