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February 28, 1921



White, McKEnna, Holmes, Day, Van Devanter, Pitney, McReynolds, Brandeis, Clarke

Author: Clarke

[ 255 U.S. Page 302]

 MR. JUSTICE CLARKE delivered the opinion of the court.

In a joint indictment the plaintiff in error, Gouled, one Vaughan, an officer of the United States Army, and a third, an attorney at law, were charged, in the first count, with being parties to a conspiracy to defraud the United States, in violation of § 37 of the Federal Criminal Code, and, in the second count, with having used the mails to

[ 255 U.S. Page 303]

     promote a scheme to defraud the United States, in violation of § 215 of that Code. Vaughan pleaded guilty, the attorney was acquitted, and Gouled, whom we shall refer to as the defendant, was convicted, and thereupon prosecuted error from the Circuit Court of Appeals, which certifies to this court six questions which we are to consider.

Of these questions, the first two relate to the admission in evidence of a paper surreptitiously taken from the office of the defendant by one acting under direction of officers of the Intelligence Department of the Army of the United States, and the remaining four relate to papers taken from defendant's office under two search warrants, issued pursuant to the Act of June 15, 1917, c. 30, 40 Stat. 217, 228. It was objected on the trial, and is here insisted, that it was error to admit these papers in evidence because possession of them was obtained by violating the rights secured to the defendant by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.

The Fourth Amendment reads:

"The 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 part of the Fifth Amendment here involved reads:

"No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself."

It would not be possible to add to the emphasis with which the framers of our Constitution and this court (in Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, in Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, and in Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385) have declared the importance to political liberty and to the welfare of our country of the due observance of the rights guaranteed under the Constitution

[ 255 U.S. Page 304]

     by these two Amendments. The effect of the decisions cited is: that such rights are declared to be indispensable to the "full enjoyment of personal security, personal liberty and private property"; that they are to be regarded as of the very essence of constitutional liberty; and that the guaranty of them is as important and as imperative as are the guaranties of the other fundamental rights of the individual citizen, -- the right, to trial by jury, to the writ of habeas corpus and to due process of law. It has been repeatedly decided that these Amendments should receive a liberal construction, so as to prevent stealthy encroachment upon or "gradual depreciation" of the rights secured by them, by imperceptible practice of courts or by well-intentioned but mistakenly over-zealous executive officers.

In the spirit of these decisions we must deal with the questions before us.

The facts derived from the certificate, essential to be considered in answering the first two questions, are: that in January, 1918, it was suspected that the defendant, Gouled, and Vaughan were conspiring to defraud the Government through contracts with it for clothing and equipment; that one Cohen, a private in the Army, attached to the Intelligence Department, and a business acquaintance of defendant Gouled, under direction of his superior officers, pretending to make a friendly call upon the defendant, gained admission to his office and, in his absence, without warrant of any character, seized and carried away several documents; that one of these papers, described as "of evidential value only" and belonging to Gouled, was subsequently delivered to the United States District Attorney, and was by him introduced in evidence over the ...

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