Lanza v. New York/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court
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United States Supreme Court

370 U.S. 139

Lanza  v.  New York

 Argued: April 2, 1962. --- Decided: June 4, 1962

On February 13, 1957, the petitioner paid a visit to his brother, who was then confined in a New York jail. The two conversed in a room at the jail set aside for such visits. Six days later the petitioner's brother was released from custody by order of one member of the State Parole Commission, under rather unusual circumstances. [1] This prompted a committee of the New York Legislature to hold an investigation of possible corruption in the state parole system. [2]

During the course of the committee's investigation, the petitioner was called to testify. He appeared, accompanied by counsel. After granting the petitioner immunity from prosecution, as permitted by state law, [3] the committee directed him to answer several questions. For refusing to answer these questions the petitioner was indicted, tried and convicted under a provision of the criminal law of New York. [4] His conviction was affirmed on review by the New York courts. [5] We granted certiorari, 368 U.S. 918, 82 S.Ct. 239, 7 L.Ed.2d 134, to consider the petitioner's claim that he could not constitutionally be punished for refusing to answer the questions put to him by the state legislative committee, because the conversation he had had with his brother in jail had been electronically intercepted and recorded by officials of the State, and a transcript of that conversation had furnished the basis of the committee's questions. For the reasons which follow, we hold that this constitutional claim is not valid, and we accordingly affirm the judgment before us.

The record does not make clear the precise circumstances under which the conversation in the jail between the petitioner and his brother was overheard and transcribed. The State concedes, however, that an electronic device was installed in the room at the Westchester County Jail where the two conversed on February 13, 1957, that without their knowledge their conversation was thereby overheard and transcribed by jail officials, and that a transcript of the conversation was in the hands of the legislative committee when the petitioner was summoned to testify.

The petitioner has not questioned the power of the state legislative committee to conduct an investigation into whether the state parole system was being administered honestly and evenhandedly, nor has he questioned the good faith or propriety of the particular investigation which gave rise to the present case. His argument is simply that the interception of the jail conversation was a violation of those principles of the Fourth Amendment which have found recognition in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth, that it was accordingly impermissible for the state legislative committee to make use of the transcript of that conversation in interrogating him, and that New York therefore denied him due process of law by convicting him for refusing to answer the committee's questions. [6]

The Fourth Amendment specifically insures the 'right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,' by federal officers. We may take it as settled that the Fourteenth Amendment gives to the people like protection against the conduct of the officials of any State. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081; Elkins v. United States, 364 U.S. 206, 80 S.Ct. 1437, 4 L.Ed.2d 1669; Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25, 69 S.Ct. 1359, 93 L.Ed. 1782.

The petitioner's argument thus necessarily begins with two assumptions: that the visitors' room of a public jail is a constitutionally protected area, and that surreptitious electronic eavesdropping under certain circumstances may amount to an unreasonable search or seizure. As to the second there can be no doubt. This Court through the years has not taken a literal or mechanical approach to the question of what may constitute a search or seizure. [7] And as recently as last Term we specifically held that electronic eavesdropping by federal officers, accomplished by physical intrusion into the wall of a house, violated the Fourth Amendment rights of the occupants. Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505, 81 S.Ct. 679, 5 L.Ed.2d 734.

But to say that a public jail is the equivalent of a man's 'house' or that it is a place where he can claim constitutional immunity from search or seizure of his person, his papers, or his effects, is at best a novel argument. To be sure, the Court has been far from niggardly in construing the physical scope of Fourth Amendment protection. A business office is a protected area, [8] and so may be a store. [9] A hotel room, in the eyes of the Fourth Amendment, may become a person's 'house,' [10] and so, of course, may an apartment. [11] An automobile may not be unreasonably searched. [12] Neither may an occupied taxicab. [13] Yet, without attempting either to define or to predict the ultimate scope of Fourth Amendment protection, it is obvious that a jail shares none of the attributes of privacy of a home, an automobile, an office, or a hotel room. In prison, official surveillance has traditionally been the order of the day. [14] Though it may be assumed that even in a jail, or perhaps especially there, the relationships which the law has endowed with particularized confidentiality must continue to receive unceasing protection, [15] there is no claimed violation of any such special relationship here.

But even if we accept the premise that the room at the jail where the petitioner and his brother conversed was an area immunized by the Constitution from unreasonable search and seizure, and even though we put to one side questions as to the petitioner's standing to complain, [16] the petitioner's argument would still carry far beyond any decision which this Court has yet rendered. The case before us bears no resemblance to such cases as Leyra v. Denno, 347 U.S. 556, 74 S.Ct. 716, 98 L.Ed. 948, where a State attempted to use as evidence in a criminal trial a confession which had been elicited by trickery from the defendant while he was in jail. See also Spano v. New York, 360 U.S. 315, 79 S.Ct. 1202, 3 L.Ed.2d 1265. We do not have here the introduction into a state criminal trial of evidence which is claimed to have been unconstitutionally seized, as in Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081. See Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165, 72 S.Ct. 205, 96 L.Ed. 183. Nor is this a case where it is claimed that the evidence actually offered at a trial was procured through knowledge gained from what had been unlawfully obtained-the 'fruit of the poisonous tree.' Cf. Nardone v. United States, 308 U.S. 338, 60 S.Ct. 266, 84 L.Ed. 307.

Here no such evidence was ever introduced in a prosecution against the petitioner. Rather, the petitioner was convicted for willfully refusing to answer the pertinent questions of a duly constituted legislative committee in the conduct of an authorized legislative investigation, after having been given immunity from prosecution. To hold that the petitioner could not constitutionally be convicted for refusing to answer such questions simply because they related to a conversation which had been unlawfully overheard by other state officials would thus be a completely unprecedented step.

The ultimate disposition of this case, however, does not demand consideration of whether such a step might ever be constitutionally required. For even if all the other doubtful issues should be resolved in the petitioner's favor, the record conclusively shows that at least two of the questions which the committee asked him were not related in any way to the intercepted conversation. The petitioner was asked to whom he had talked in February, 1957, about releasing his brother on parole. [17] He was asked to describe the efforts he had made to assist in obtaining his brother's release. [18] Not only is it apparent on their face that these questions were not dependent upon the conversation overheard at the jail, but committee counsel unequivocally so testified at the petitioner's trial. [19] Costello v. United States, 365 U.S. 265, 279-280, 81 S.Ct. 534, 541, 542, 5 L.Ed.2d 551. Refusal to answer either of these questions fully supports the judgment as modified by the New York courts. [20] Whitfield v. Ohio, 297 U.S. 431, 438, 56 S.Ct. 532, 534, 80 L.Ed. 778.

Moreover, the record contains no basis for supposing that the committee would not have called the petitioner to testify, had it not been in possession of a transcript of the recorded jail conversation-assuming, arguendo, that such an attenuated connection would help the petitioner's case. See Costello v. United States, supra. Indeed, it is reasonable to infer that the petitioner would have been interrogated even if the transcript of the conversation had not existed. The committee knew of the suspicious circumstances surrounding the release of the petitioner's brother. [21] The committee knew that the petitioner had been one of the three visitors the brother had had during his stay in jail. [22] And the record shows that the committee had other independent information which could have occasioned the petitioner's interrogation. In short, we conclude that the ultimate constitutional claim asserted in this case, whatever its merits, is simply not tendered by this record.


Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER took no part in the decision of this case.

Mr. Justice WHITE took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.


^1  Four parole officers had concurred in a report finding that the petitioner's brother was 'not a fit subject for restoration to parole.' This report had been endorsed by three superiors in the Division of Parole. Shortly after receiving these recommendations a member of the Commission ordered the petitioner's brother released.

^2  The committee was the Joint Legislative Committee on Government Operations, created by the New York Legislature in 1955. This committee was endowed with 'full power and authority to investigate, inquire into and examine the management and affairs of any department, board, bureau, commission * * * of the state, and all questions in relation thereto * * *.' The committee was specifically authorized to investigate 'the administration of state and local laws and the detection and prevention of unsound, improper or corrupt practices in connection therewith.'

^3  New York Penal Law, McKinney's Consol.Laws, c. 40, §§ 381, 584, 2447.

^4  New York Penal Law, § 1330: 'A person who being present before either house of the legislature or any committee thereof authorized to summon witnesses, wilfully refuses to be sworn or affirmed, or to answer any material and proper question, or to produce upon reasonable notice any material and proper books, papers, or documents in his possession or under his control, is guilty of a misdemeanor.'

^5  The Appellate Division modified the judgment by directing that the terms imposed on the several counts of the indictment be served concurrently. 10 App.Div.2d 315, 199 N.Y.S.2d 598. The New York Court of Appeals modified the judgment further, holding that the petitioner had committed but a single crime in refusing to answer the various questions put to him by the committee. 9 N.Y.2d 895, 216 N.Y.S.2d 706, 175 N.E.2d 833.

^6  The New York Court of Appeals made clear that it had passed upon this federal constitutional claim, and that its judgment was not based upon an independent state ground. Its amended remittitur was as follows:

'Upon the appeal herein there was presented and necessarily passed upon a question under the Constitution of the United States, viz.: Defendant argued that the imposition of penal sanctions for his refusal to answer certain questions deprived him of liberty without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court of Appeals held that defendant's constitutional rights were not violated.'

^7  Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385, 40 S.Ct. 182, 64 L.Ed. 319; Zap v. United States, 328 U.S. 624, 66 S.Ct. 1277, 90 L.Ed. 1477; cf. Irvine v. California, 347 U.S. 128, 132, 74 S.Ct. 381, 382, 98 L.Ed. 561; see also Nueslein v. District of Columbia, 73 App.D.C. 85, 115 F.2d 690; McGinnis v. United States, 1 Cir., 227 F.2d 598.

^8  Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385, 40 S.Ct. 182, 64 L.Ed. 319; Gouled v. United States, 255 U.S. 298, 41 S.Ct. 261, 65 L.Ed. 647.

^9  Amos v. United States, 255 U.S. 313, 41 S.Ct. 266, 65 L.Ed. 654; Davis v. United States, 328 U.S. 582, 66 S.Ct. 1256, 90 L.Ed. 1453.

^10  Lustig v. United States, 338 U.S. 74, 69 S.Ct. 1372, 93 L.Ed. 1819; United States v. Jeffers, 342 U.S. 48, 72 L.Ed. 93, 96 L.Ed. 59.

^11  Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257, 80 S.Ct. 725, 4 L.Ed.2d 697.

^12  Gambino v. United States, 275 U.S. 310, 48 S.Ct. 137, 72 L.Ed. 293; Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 45 S.Ct. 280, 69 L.Ed. 543; Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 69 S.Ct. 1302, 93 L.Ed. 1879; Henry v. United States, 361 U.S. 98, 80 S.Ct. 168, 4 L.Ed.2d 134.

^13  Rios v. United States, 364 U.S. 253, 80 S.Ct. 1431, 4 L.Ed.2d 1688.

^14  N.Y.Correction Law, McKinney's Consol.Laws, c. 43, § 500 c provides, in part: 'Convicts under sentence shall not be allowed to converse with any other person, except in the presence of a keeper.'

The N.Y. State Commission of Correction, Regulations for Management of County Jails (Revised 1953 ed.), provide, in part:

'All parts of the jail should be frequently searched for contraband.

'A thorough search should be made of all packages to prevent forbidden articles being smuggled into the jail. The number of articles permitted to be taken into the jail should be kept to a minimum. Saws have been secreted in bananas, in the soles of shoes, under the peaks of caps, and drugs may be secreted in cap visors, under postage stamps on letters, in cigars and various other ways. Constant vigilance is necessary if your jail is to be kept safe.

'Cells should be systematically searched for materials which would serve as a weapon or medium of self-destruction or escape. Razor blades are small and easily concealed.

'The law requires that visitors be carefully supervised to prevent passing in of weapons, tools, drugs, liquor and other contraband.

'In jails where a visitors' booth is provided, the safe-keeping of prisoners, especially those held for serious crimes, will be best insured if the booths are used for visits. Where there are no booths, and where prisoners are permitted to receive visitors in the corridors or jailer's office, visits should be closely supervised. Experience has shown that laxity in supervising visitors and searching packages has resulted in escapes, assaults on officer and serious breaches of discipline.'

^15  Cf. Lanza v. N.Y. State Joint Legislative Committee, 3 N.Y.2d 92, 164 N.Y.S.2d 9, 143 N.E.2d 772, affirming 3 App.Div.2d 531, 162 N.Y.S.2d 467; Matter of Reuter, 4 App.Div.2d 252, 164 N.Y.S.2d 534; see Coplon v. United States, 89 U.S.App.D.C. 103, 191 F.2d 749.

^16  See Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257, 80 S.Ct. 725, 4 L.Ed.2d 697.

^17  'Mr. Lanza, please tell the committee the name of anybody with whom you spoke during the month of February 1957 about the restoration to parole of your brother Joseph Lanza.'

^18  'On February 5, 1957, your brother Joseph Lanza was arrested and returned to prison charged with a violation of parole. Tell the committee, please, any and all efforts extended by you to assist in obtaining the release of your brother Joseph Lanza on parole or his restoration to parole.'

^19  'Q. You say that you did not gather any material from the tapes upon which to predicate that question, Mr. Bauman? A. I have said and I say, Mr. Direnzo, that that question as well as the previous one was not based upon any material in the tapes.

'Q. You are sure about that? A. Yes.'

^20  See note 5.

^21  See note 1.

^22  The others were the brother's wife and his lawyer.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).